Peripheral Arterial Disease
Heart & Cardiac Screenings
Peripheral arterial disease, or peripheral artery disease, is described as a cardiovascular disease resulting from damaged or dysfunctional peripheral (located away from the heart) arteries having reduced blood flow caused by narrowing or obstruction. As blood circulates through the body, it carries essential nutrients and oxygen to vital organs and cells. Reduced oxygen-rich blood flow can result in organ and cell damage.
Undiagnosed or untreated peripheral arterial disease (PAD) can lead to coronary artery disease, heart attack, stroke, transient ischemic attack, vascular inflammation, blood clots, infection, gangrene and other serious medical conditions. Although PAD can affect arteries in the brain, neck, arms and other areas, it commonly affects the arteries in the legs. In fact, intermittent claudication (leg pain or cramps) during physical activity is often one of the first symptoms experienced by PAD sufferers.
Atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, is recognized as the leading cause of peripheral arterial disease. Atherosclerosis is caused by the build-up of plaque in the artery. Plaque is formed from cholesterol, calcium and fatty deposits in the blood. As more plaque develops, the artery begins to narrow and eventually “harden.” As plaque fills the artery, blood flow is significantly reduced. Arterial lining (endothelium) damage can facilitate plaque collection. Plaque may become inflamed or brittle, breaking off, resulting in a blood clot.
High blood cholesterol levels contribute to the development of atherosclerosis and PAD. Tobacco use is recognized as another leading contributor to peripheral arterial disease. High blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and physical inactivity are risk factors for developing PAD, also. Age, family history, pre-existing cardiac disease and other medical conditions are some additional risk factors. Adopting a healthy lifestyle and effective healthcare can help prevent PAD or greatly improve existing PAD.
PAD symptoms may include aching, numbness, pain, cramping or a heavy feeling in the legs, buttocks or feet while walking, running or climbing stairs. Pale or bluish skin, slow healing sores, poor nail growth and decreased leg hair may indicate peripheral arterial disease. Male patients may experience erectile dysfunction. Some PAD sufferers do not experience any symptoms until the disease has reached a critical stage.
Dr. Alonso will evaluate your personal risk factors for peripheral arterial disease and conduct a physical examination. If you have experienced symptoms of PAD, inform the doctor. During the examination, he will likely use a stethoscope to listen to your heart, pulse and peripheral arterial blood flow. He will listen for a bruit, or whooshing sound, that may indicate a narrowed or blocked artery. Based on his assessment, Dr. Alonso may recommend screening tests for PAD.
Initial PAD screening tests include blood tests, ankle-brachial index (ABI), pulse-volume recording and duplex ultrasound. All of these screening tests are quick and easy. Blood testing will measure cholesterol, glucose and other markers for PAD. ABI is used to compare blood the pressure in your arms to that of the blood pressure in your legs. Pulse-volume recording checks the volume of blood at different points in your leg. Duplex ultrasound is used to check blood flow and detect blockages.