Peripheral arterial disease, or P.A.D., is a vascular disease in which large arteries are obstructed. It is considered peripheral because it is generally contained to the extremities, not the structures of the heart, head, or major organs. While the disease can be medically treated, it is a serious disorder with many risks.
The peripheral arterial disease occurs when plaque builds up in an artery. It can harden, causing the area for blood flow to narrow or even be obstructed partially or completely. Another common cause is atherosclerosis. In the case of atherosclerosis, the walls of the arteries themselves thicken, causing the narrow space. This is common in the legs of people suffering from P.A.D. When the blood cannot flow freely, oxygen is not delivered to the extremities efficiently, causing pain and numbness.
The symptoms of pain and numbness are often what will cause someone suffering from P.A.D. to initially seek out a doctor for a diagnosis of peripheral arterial disease. The disease is graded in four stages, and by the time pain and numbness upon movement and standing occur, it is likely to have already reached stage two. Stage three usually includes pain in the feet at rest, while stage four involves infection, necrosis, and gangrene of the limb.
While some people may not be able to prevent the onset of peripheral arterial disease, there are groups who are at increased risk of developing P.A.D. Anyone with a family history of artery or heart disease may be at increased risk. Obesity is a factor in the development of plaque in the arteries, as well as a risk factor for atherosclerosis, which can cause this condition. Additionally, smoking increases the risk that arteries will harden, as do diets high in fat and cholesterol.
Treatment of the disease can vary depending on the severity and the method each doctor prefers. Quitting smoking and diet management are major tools in the fight against peripheral vascular disease. Exercise is helpful, and several prescriptions and over the counter medications have been found to be effective. In severe cases, procedures up to and including surgery are called for. Angioplasty and stent placement can be utilized, and amputation may be considered in cases where gangrene is present.
Avoidance of risk factors is key in the prevention of any arterial disease, and prompt attention to symptoms such as pain and numbness in the extremities is key to a quick diagnosis. With medical guidance, symptoms can successfully be managed without serious surgical intervention.