If you’re older and your legs ache, it could be nothing — or it could be a sign of peripheral artery disease (PAD). Blacks have two times the risk for PAD as whites or Asians.
Peripheral artery disease happens when plaque builds up in the arteries of the legs. This happens gradually. If it’s allowed to progress, it can limit or block blood flow in that artery.
The disease affects about 10 million people in the United States. Risks for developing it include smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, kidney failure and obesity.
“As we age, we are susceptible to some aches and pains, possibly a tightness in the lower back after standing for long periods of time or a soreness in the legs after a challenging workout, but if unexplained pain persists, it’s important to see a physician,” Dr. Alan Dietzek, a surgeon in Danbury, Conn. says. “Of course, not all pain indicates a serious problem, but certain leg pain and other symptoms in the lower extremities could be a sign of PAD.”
Symptoms can include leg pain when walking or climbing, cool skin in the feet, redness or other color changes of the skin, numbness, cramps, weakness and foot wounds that do not heal. It may start with difficulty walking, but can progress to infections, painful foot ulcers, gangrene and amputation.
Older, at-risk patients can have an ultrasound and leg blood pressure examination, to help determine if they have PAD and how severe it is.
“It’s critical to get diagnosed and treated as early as possible,” Dietzek adds. “While PAD can be severe and limb-threatening, the good news is that it is a slow-moving disease, and many patients can keep the worst effects at bay simply by changing their lifestyle.”
Peripheral artery disease treatment
If you develop PAD, your doctor may recommend quitting smoking, losing weight and exercising, such as walking 30 minutes a day. Patients who have diabetes and PAD should control their blood sugar. Some patients will be prescribed medication to improve