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This disease causes hundreds of amputations a day. Most Americans haven't heard of it

What to know about peripheral artery disease
Leg Pain
Posted at 8:54 AM, Mar 07, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-07 08:54:20-05

Most Americans are unaware of one of the most common vascular diseases: peripheral artery disease, or PAD.

It's hard to wrap your head around, but the disease contributes to about 400 amputations every day in the U.S., according to the National Library of Medicine.

Doctors along with several organizations are trying to close the awareness gap, especially among the most at-risk patients, with a new campaign "Get a Pulse on PAD."

"PAD is the most prevalent, debilitating, deadly cardiovascular disease that most Americans have never heard of," said Dr. Foluso Fakorede, co-chair of the Association of Black Cardiologists PAD Initiative.

In PAD, narrowed arteries reduce blood flow to the arms or legs, often caused by a buildup of plaque on artery walls.

Dr. Anahita Dua, a vascular surgeon with Massachusetts General Hospital, said it can get to the point, "where you don't even have enough blood flowing to your toes to literally keep your leg attached to your body. So, your toes start to die and slowly the rest of the tissue up the leg starts to die."

PAD disproportionately affects underserved communities. And patients with diabetes or high blood pressure, and people who smoke are at a much greater risk for PAD.

"Because of the diabetes, because of the high blood pressure, because of the smoking," Dua explains, "there's this blockage of the blood flow. And by the time it's actually figured out, potentially, it's too late and it leads to amputation."

Patients with PAD have, "debilitating cramping when they walk," Fakorede said. They may even have cramping when they're at rest.

Fakorede said the goal of the campaign is to help patients catch the disease early on.

"We want patients and their family members or their advocates or health care providers or navigators to have that discussion," he said, "when they go to the doctor's office, 'Take off your socks or your shoes,' let them check your pulse, see if you have poor circulation."

Other symptoms of PAD, according to the Mayo Clinic, include:

  • Coldness in the lower leg or foot
  • Leg numbness or weakness
  • Shiny skin on the legs
  • Skin color changes on the legs
  • Sores on the toes, feet or legs that won't heal

Dua said it's vital to ask questions, "When you go in to see your doctor question them. We love it. I promise you," she said.

According to a national survey by the PAD Pulse Alliance, 70 percent of Americans aren't aware of the disease. The PAD Pulse Alliance and its partners published a patient toolkit at PADPulse.org to help patients understand the risks and symptoms.