By the time you experience the symptoms of peripheral artery disease (PAD), the condition has already advanced to a serious stage. However, most people can prevent PAD or significantly slow down its progression by taking steps to lower their controllable risk factors.
Here at Vein Health Clinics, Dr. Obinna Nwobi specializes in assessing your risk for peripheral artery disease. Then he creates a plan that reduces your risk factors and helps you stay active and healthy.
Peripheral artery disease explained
Peripheral artery disease most often occurs in the arteries in your legs, but it can sometimes affect arteries in your arms. You develop PAD when cholesterol circulating in your blood sticks to a damaged area on the artery walls.
Over time, the cholesterol gradually accumulates and hardens into plaque, which is a condition called atherosclerosis. When the plaque gets too large, it blocks blood flow through the artery, and the tissues served by the clogged artery are deprived of oxygen and nutrients.
Chances are you won’t have symptoms until the artery has narrowed by 60% or more. Then you’ll begin to experience:
- Leg pain or muscle cramps that occur when walking
- Numbness and tingling in your legs and feet
- Ulcers or sores on your feet that don’t heal
- Skin discoloration or feeling of coolness
- Hair loss on your legs
As the disease progresses, you may have foot pain even when you’re resting or your legs are elevated.
Risk factors you can change to prevent peripheral artery disease
You can’t do anything about some of the factors that increase your risk of PAD, like your age or having a family history of the disease. However, most risk factors are within your control.
If any of these risk factors apply to you, changing them before the disease develops can prevent PAD. Even after cholesterol begins to build up, you can slow down the accumulation or stop the condition from worsening by dealing with the top six risk factors:
Smoking is the primary risk factor for PAD and the most common preventable cause. In fact, it’s estimated that smokers have four times the risk of PAD compared to nonsmokers.
Smoking contributes to the formation of atherosclerotic plaque as chemicals in cigarette smoke damage cells that line blood vessels and cause inflammation.
Having diabetes significantly increases your risk for peripheral artery disease, because high blood sugar promotes inflammation and leads to blood vessel abnormalities that cause atherosclerosis.
Additionally, patients with diabetes frequently have high levels of fat and cholesterol in their bloodstreams, which is another risk factor for PAD. After PAD develops, diabetes accelerates its progress and increases your risk of a heart attack, stroke, and amputation.
High blood pressure
When you have high blood pressure, artery walls are damaged by the force of blood pushing through the blood vessel. This creates the rough spots that make it easy for cholesterol to accumulate.
The effect of cholesterol in your bloodstream depends on the amount of total cholesterol, high-density lipoproteins (HDLs) and low-density lipoproteins (LDLs).
After you consume cholesterol, your small intestine turns the fat into a package that’s wrapped in proteins so that it can travel in your bloodstream. These packages, called lipoproteins, have varying amounts of cholesterol and protein, which is what makes them HDL or LDL.
HDL is the so-called good cholesterol, because these lipoproteins remove cholesterol from your blood. On the other hand, LDL is the bad type of cholesterol because it stays in your blood, where the cholesterol it carries can end up clogging your arteries and causing PAD.
Overweight and obesity
Carrying excess weight leads to high blood pressure and diabetes, which in turn cause PAD. Additionally, being overweight increases system-wide inflammation, including vascular inflammation that contributes to atherosclerotic plaque. Where you carry fat may also make a difference. Extra weight around your waist may increase your chance of PAD more than your total BMI.
Staying active and engaging in routine exercise primarily prevents PAD by lowering other risk factors. Exercise helps you maintain a healthy weight, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, and helps prevent diabetes.
Lifestyle changes to lower your risk for peripheral artery disease
You can reduce all the PAD risk factors by making four major changes in your lifestyle, as needed: losing weight, eating a balanced diet, getting regular exercise, and stopping smoking. These changes are all connected, as losing weight depends on your diet, limiting calories, and getting regular exercise. A healthy diet also helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol.
There are some differences in the focus of a diet to prevent or manage diabetes compared to one designed to reduce hypertension. But the changes required for both fit perfectly into a sustainable diet that everyone can follow.
To learn more about your risk for PAD and to get the help you need controlling risk factors, call one of our offices at Vein Health Clinics or book an appointment online.