Understanding Your Peripheral Artery Disease Diagnosis

Jun 09, 2023
Understanding Your Peripheral Artery Disease Diagnosis
If left untreated, peripheral artery disease (PAD) can lead to serious complications, even amputation. Here’s what you need to know about your diagnosis.

Pain in the legs when you walk distances or climb stairs is sometimes a sign of claudication, an early symptom of peripheral artery disease, also known as PAD. Once you’ve been diagnosed, it’s important to begin taking steps to improve your vein health. With the help of a specialist, you can find a treatment plan that works for you. 

At Apex Endovascular, located in Fort Collins, Colorado, Dr. Shawn Ahmed can screen for peripheral artery disease, provide treatment, and help you avoid life-threatening effects.

What you need to know about PAD

The CDC estimates that some 6.5 million adults have PAD, but this number could be much higher due to undiagnosed or misdiagnosed cases. PAD is typically caused by build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries (atherosclerosis), which narrows the arteries and reduces blood flow. 

People at highest risk for PAD include those with:

  • A family history of PAD
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity

Risk goes up after age 65, or after age 50 if you have known tendencies or risks for atherosclerosis. Many people show no symptoms because the disease progresses insidiously, damaging the arteries before any signs show.

Effects of PAD

PAD mostly affects the smaller blood vessels that carry oxygenating blood away from your heart and toward the outer areas of your body, including your limbs, head, and digestive organs. 

Depending on the arteries being affected by PAD, this can significantly increase your risk for heart disease/attack or stroke (because of decreased blood flow and the potential for clots), and gangrene/potential limb amputation (due to low blood flow and poor oxygenation preventing proper healing).

In many cases, signs of PAD show up in the legs first, due to the higher blood pressure and more work needed to push blood through the veins. You might notice leg cramps, shiny skin, slowed hair growth, coldness or numbness in your legs, discolored patches of skin, and small wounds that won’t heal — all warning signs of PAD

Usually having symptoms at all is a sign that complications are developing. Most people with PAD go for years undiagnosed because they have no symptoms or their symptoms are attributed to other causes.

Diagnosing PAD

Dr. Ahmed diagnoses PAD using a variety of screening techniques. The most common ways to check for PAD are with a Doppler ultrasound and/or an angiography. These help us see if blood is moving slowly, if the pulse in the leg is slowed or weakened, and if the arteries are narrowed.

Understanding your diagnosis

PAD is usually treated with lifestyle changes and possibly medication as a front line of defense. 

Dr. Ahmed can help you make lifestyle changes to improve your vein health. Your treatment program could include:

  • Planning better meals
  • Stopping smoking
  • Losing some weight
  • Starting to walk daily

You must treat underlying health conditions that can make PAD worse, like high blood pressure and diabetes. If your PAD is advanced, Dr. Ahmed may recommend medications to help widen your arteries. If you have severe PAD and are at risk for a completely blocked artery or a clot that could break free and travel through your body, you may need surgery.

If you’re concerned about pain in your legs, find out what’s causing it, and receive the best available treatments by calling Apex Endovascular at 970-508-8439, or booking a consultation online today.