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Peripheral Artery Disease: An Early Warning Sign of Heart Disease

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Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) is a common disease with eight to ten million persons being affected in the United States alone. In PAD, narrowed arteries reduce blood flow to the extremities which results in pain, particularly in the legs, when walking. PAD is often an early warning sign of a more serious underlying condition – atherosclerosis, which is a leading contributor to heart disease and stroke.

Despite the fact that persons with PAD are at a much greater risk for heart disease and stroke, the Society of Interventional Radiology (SIR) found that there was very limited awareness and treatment of PAD resulting is very low preventative measures. SIR founded Legs for Life® in 1997 in response to this growing need for education and prevention of PAD.

A unique collaboration between multiple organizations (Society of Interventional Radiology (SIR), Intervention of American Heart Association (AHA), American Diabetes Association, Council on Cardiovascular Radiology, Society for Vascular Nursing (SVN), and American Radiological Nurses Association (ARNA), Legs for Life is the largest (and longest running) national screening program dedicated solely to screening for vascular disease. The mission for Legs for Life is very simple:

– Education to the public, medical community and primary care physicians regarding PAD
– Identification of at-risk persons
– Promote collaboration and strong relationships between the various branches of the medical community
– Improve overall cardiovascular health

In order to accomplish its goals, Legs for Life provides online self-assessments, education materials and nationwide screening for vascular disease. (Although Legs for Life vascular screenings may be held at any time throughout the year, September is the Legs For Life National Screening Month for PAD Leg Pain and there are generally more screenings available at that time.). Most vascular screenings will consist of a questionnaire to assess risk and a simple test where the blood pressure in the legs is compared to the blood pressure rates in the arms (Ankle Brachial Index (ABI). Twenty-five percent of all persons screened were found to be at risk for PAD and referred for follow-up evaluation.

While anyone can develop atherosclerosis, there are certain groups who are more at risk for PAD and should consider regular screening. Those more at risk include persons who are:

• Over 70 years of age
• Over 50 years of age with diabetes
• Over 50 years of age and who smoke
• Under 50 years of age with diabetes
• Under 50 years of age with PAD risk factors

PAD risk factors are similar to those for heart disease and include high blood pressure (greater than 140/90), obesity (BMI over 30), diabetes, smoking, high cholesterol (total more than 240), family history of PAD, stroke or heart disease, and high levels of homocysteine (tissue building protein). As with many health issues, PAD can be prevented and treated by exercising regularly, healthy eating and by stopping smoking.

For more information on Legs of Life, or to take a self-assessments to evaluate your PAD risk factors, or to register for a PAD screening, visit Legs of Life at www.legsforlife.org. Identifying and treating PAD early just may prevent heart disease from forming later.

Everything You Need to Know About Legs for Life®, Society of Interventional Radiology, 2010, http://www.legsforlife.org/aboutlfl.shtml

Peripheral artery disease (PAD), The Mayo Clinic, 21 Apr 2010, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/peripheral-arterial-disease/DS00537

Ultimate Health Quiz to Determine Risk for Peripheral Arterial Disease, Interventional Radiologists Recommend That Seniors, African-Americans, Diabetics Take Online Quiz, Get Screened if Needed, 31 Aug 2009, http://www.sirweb.org/news/newsPDF/Alert_LFL09_final.pdf

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.