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What You Should Know About Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD)

Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is probably less well known than cardiovascular disease, but it can be just as deadly. Experts from SeniorHealth, a division of the National Institutes of Health, share what you should know about the illness and how you can help prevent it:

Peripheral arterial disease is a disease in which plaque builds up in the arteries that carry blood to the head, organs, and limbs. Plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium, fibrous tissue, and other substances in the blood.

When plaque builds up in the body’s arteries, the condition is called atherosclerosis. Over time, plaque can harden and narrow the arteries. This limits the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your organs and other parts of your body.

The SeniorHealth experts say that PAD often affects the arteries in the legs, but it can also affect the arteries that carry blood from your heart to the head, arms, kidneys, and stomach.

The most common cause: atherosclerosis, a buildup of plaque in the arteries. The exact cause of atherosclerosis isn’t known. The disease may start if certain factors damage the inner layers of the arteries. These factors include: smoking; high amounts of certain fats and cholesterol in the blood;    high blood pressure;   high amounts of sugar in the blood due to insulin resistance or diabetes.

The conditions affects millions of people in the United States and is more common in African Americans than any other racial or ethnic group.

Major risk factors include aging, smoking and diseases and conditions including diabetes; high blood pressure; high blood cholesterol; coronary heart disease; stroke; and metabolic syndrome

The risk of PAD increases four times, the SeniorHealth experts say, if you smoke or have smoked. On average, they say, people who smoke and develop PAD do so about ten years earlier than those who don’t smoke.

Quitting smoking slows the progress of P.A.D. People who smoke and people who have diabetes are at highest risk for P.A.D. complications such as gangrene (tissue death) in the leg from decreased blood flow.

Taking action to control your risk factors can help prevent or delay PAD . and its complications. Know your family history of health problems related to PAD. If you or someone in your family has the disease, be sure to tell your doctor.

Here are some steps you can take:

If you smoke, quit. Talk with your doctor about programs and products that can help you quit smoking. You can also call a smoking quitline. The National Cancer Institute’s Smoking Quitline at (877) 44U-QUIT or (877) 448-7848 is available between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time. You can also call (800) QUIT-NOW or (800) 784-8669 to be connected with free resources about quitting and counseling information in your state.

Eat a heart-healthy diet. Look for foods that are low in total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and salt.

Get regular exercise and physical activity. Be sure to talk with your doctor before beginning any exercise program.

Be screened for PAD. A simple office test, called an ankle-brachial index or ABI, can help determine whether you have PAD.

Lose weight if you’re overweight or obese. Work with your doctor to create a reasonable weight-loss plan.

These lifestyle changes can reduce your risk for PAD. They can also help prevent and control conditions that can be associated with PAD, including coronary heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and stroke.

This information appears on the SeniorHealth website. For more information on health issues related to aging, click here.

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