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Peripheral Artery Disease

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is characterized by damage or narrowing of the blood vessels. The disease is also frequently referred to as peripheral vascular disease (PVD). The two terms are typically used interchangeably.

One in every 20 Americans over the age of 50 is affected by PAD. This figure equates to approximately eight to 12 million Americans. PAD can increase risk for heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular complications. In some patients, peripheral artery disease causes varicose veins. Learn more about varicose veins. 

PAD Risk Assessment

Treating Peripheral Artery Disease

While there is no cure for peripheral artery disease, many patients find their symptoms dramatically improve when they follow the above prevention and management guidelines. Treatment options may include antiplatelet drugs like clopidogrel, blood pressure medications, cholesterol medications, and angioplasty and stent placement.

Panetheris Lumivascular Atherectomy

In 2016, vascular surgeons with Phoenix Heart Center performed the first Pantheris treatment for PAD in the Southwest. The Pantheris lumivascular atherectomy system is a new FDA-approved technology that is revolutionizing PAD treatment in Phoenix and beyond. It is the first image-guided atherectomy device of its kind.

Traditionally, patients undergoing surgery for PAD have had angioplasty with stent placement. In this traditional procedure, plaque buildup is compressed against the arterial walls and the arteries are stabilized with stents.

Pantheris actually cuts and removes the plaque from the arterial wall. This is achieved with the assistance of a small camera on the end of the catheter, which relays a live video feed back to the surgeon, eliminating the need for fluoroscopy and less reliable guidance methods like external touch and feel. This advanced image-guided atherectomy system even allows vascular surgeons at Phoenix Heart Center to treat blockages that occur in areas physicians have labeled “no stent” zones in the past. Better navigation, reduced risk of vascular damage and excellent clinical outcomes is quickly making Pantheris lumivascular atherectomy a therapy of choice for physicians and patients with PAD.

Radial Approach for PAD

Cardiologists at Phoenix Heart Center are able to perform angioplasty and stent placement via catheter placement in the radial artery on the wrist. (Learn more.) Using this technique – a vast improvement over femoral artery (groin region) placement – cardiologists can compress fatty deposits against the arterial walls and stabilize arteries with stents. Alternatively, your cardiologists may perform a catheter-based atherectomy. In this procedure, the plaque deposits are scraped away inside the artery to restore healthy blood flow.

Symptoms of Peripheral Artery Disease

Approximately half of all individuals with peripheral artery disease experience no symptoms. Therefore, it’s all the more important to know the risk factors of peripheral artery disease. (See the next section.) Learn more about the symptoms of peripheral artery disease below:

  • Intermittent claudication – pain, cramping, discomfort, or tingling in the legs during and immediately after exercise
  • Numbness or weakness in the legs
  • Cool or shiny skin on one lower leg or foot
  • Redness or discoloration of the skin
  • Burning or aching sensation in the toes or feet while at rest – especially while sleeping
  • Non-healing wounds or sores on the toes or feet
  • Erectile dysfunction (in men)
  • Hair loss (or slow growth) on the toes and feet

Many patients who experience these symptoms may write them off as “signs of old age.” That’s not necessarily the case though. If you have noticed these symptoms, let your physician know immediately. Peripheral artery disease affects your cardiovascular and overall health.

Peripheral Artery Disease Risk Factors

The following individuals are at the greatest risk for having peripheral artery disease:

  • Patients over the age of 70
  • Patients over the age of 50 with a history of smoking and/or diabetes
  • Patients under the age of 50 who are diabetic and/or smokers AND meet some of the following conditions:
    • BMI greater than 30
    • Have unhealthy cholesterol levels
    • Don’t exercise regularly
    • Have high levels of homocysteine (an amino acid in the blood)
    • Have a family history of PAD, stroke, or heart disease

Diagnosing Peripheral Artery Disease

The cardiologists at Phoenix Heart Center use a variety of advanced diagnostic tools for evaluating the causes and symptoms of a patient’s peripheral arterial disease. A full peripheral vascular evaluation may begin with basic non-invasive tests, such as an ankle-brachial index (ABI) test and/or a pulse volume recording (PVR). During these tests, blood pressure cuffs are placed on the arms and legs and the blood pressure readings are compared.

If these tests indicate that a patient may have peripheral artery disease, the cardiologist may elect to use a more advanced diagnostic test, such as a vascular ultrasound. In this diagnostic test, a small, handheld transducer bounces sound waves off of the diseased artery to create an image of the blood vessel and locate the site of the blockage.

Invasive tests may include arteriography (less common) or blood tests. Read more about these diagnostic procedures at Phoenix Heart Center.

Preventing & Managing Peripheral Artery Disease

It’s likely that your physician will initially propose a change in exercise and lifestyle habits for preventing and managing peripheral arterial disease. Ask your physician about developing a walking program to reduce intermittent claudication and other symptoms of PAD. Start slow, and work your way up to longer, brisker walking sessions. Other things you can do:

  • Quit smoking. Smokers are at four times the risk for developing PAD than non-smokers (in addition to other cardiovascular-related diseases).
  • Lower blood pressure to 140/80 mmHG or less.
  • Lower blood cholesterol. Aim for an LDL level of 100 mg/dL or less.
  • Control blood sugar. Keep your hemoglobin A1C test results below 7.0 percent.
  • Eat healthy. Limit cholesterol, sodium, and fat. Increase your fiber intake.

For more information about diagnosing and treating peripheral artery disease, contact a Phoenix Heart Center practice location convenient to you. Now serving Central Phoenix, Mesa, and Tempe. You can also schedule an appointment online.

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