Diabetes and Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD): What You Need to Know

According to the American Diabetes Association, nearly 1 out of every 3 people with diabetes over the age of 50 also suffer from peripheral arterial disease (PAD). Numbers like that would suggest that people are acutely aware of this risk, and therefore know the signs and are working with their doctor to prevent or treat PAD. However, a shocking number of people suffering from PAD are actually unaware they have it. Why? Because they assume the symptoms they’re experiencing are caused by something else.

So, we’re here to help. We want to make sure you understand what peripheral arterial disease is, as well as how to recognize signs and decrease your risk. Our hope is that in helping you understand PAD, we can also help mitigate the fear and potential complications associated with the disease. So, without further ado, let’s take a look.

Coronary artery plaque

What IS Peripheral Arterial Disease?

Peripheral arterial disease is a condition that causes blood flow to your feet and legs to decrease. This occurs when the blood vessel walls narrow due to a buildup of fatty deposits. This can present it self in a variety of ways:

  • Slowly healing sores/infections on your feet and legs
  • Pain in your lower legs and/or feet, particularly when walking or doing other activity
  • Numbness or tingling lower legs and/or feet
  • Feeling of “coldness” in lower legs and/or feet
  • “Pins and needles” feeling in your lower legs and/or feet

As discussed here and here, people with diabetes are at increased risk of heart disease and stroke, and they’re also more likely to develop PAD. However, there are things you can do to reduce your risk.

For Starters, Know The Risk Factors.

Knowing what factors put you at increased risk of developing PAD is one of the best things you can do to make sure you prevent it, or catch it early on, so you and your doctor can establish a treatment plan. Risk factors for PAD include:

  • Family history of heart disease
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • High cholesterol
  • History of heart attack and/or stroke
  • Being over the age of 50

Female leg with red damaged points.concept of ill-health

How Can I Lower My Risk of Developing PAD?

  • If you smoke, quit
  • Take measures to manage your weight (i.e. eat a well-balanced, heart-healthy diet)
  • Increase your activity level (if approved by your physician). The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes/day, 5 times/week
  • Keep your blood sugar levels within target range (A1C below 7%)

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How is PAD Diagnosed and Treated?

One of the most common ways your physician can test you for PAD is by using the ankle-brachial index. This test involves comparing the blood pressure in your arm to the blood pressure in your ankle. If your arm blood pressure is higher, it may indicate that the blood flow in your lower extremities is being decreased due to PAD. If this method doesn’t offer a clear diagnosis, they may use other diagnostic tools, such as an angiogram, MRI, or ultrasound.

Once your doctor has made a PAD diagnosis, he or she will likely prescribe medication, including an OTC with blood thinning qualities, and recommend lifestyle changes that will help you manage your PAD symptoms naturally. Additionally, they might help you implement a health care routine that will allow you to lower your cholesterol to below 100 mg/dl and your blood pressure to less than 140/80 mmHg. In some cases, surgery might be an option your doctor wants to explore. This could include either an artery bypass graft or angioplasty.

The good news is that you have options, and in many instances PAD can be managed with medication, and adjustments to your diet and lifestyle.

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