Are your legs holding you back from an active and healthy lifestyle? Do you have aching, swelling, or varicose veins? Do your legs hurt or cramps when you try to walk, run, bike or do physical activity?
If you answered yes to any of these questions you could have a problem with your circulation. The circulatory system is made up of both arteries and veins that carry blood to and from your feet and legs.
When these systems do not work properly, serious health consequences can result. It is important to understand your circulatory system and know the warning signs.
Vascular surgeon, Dr. Jennifer Watson, MD, with Spectrum Health Medical Group, covered everything from the causes and treatments to prevention during a recent interview with FOX 17 Morning Mix.
Peripheral Artery Disease is a common circulatory problem in which narrowed arteries reduce blood flow to your limbs. PAD commonly occurs when fatty deposits build up in the arteries, most often in the legs and feet. These fatty deposits narrow the openings of the arteries and reduce blood flow to the limbs.
When you develop peripheral artery disease (PAD), your extremities — usually your legs — don't receive enough blood flow to keep up with demand.
Left untreated, it can lead to serious problems and tissue damage. People with PAD are at higher risk for heart attack, stroke, leg amputation and other serious health issues. That's why proper screening is important. Fortunately, when found early, PAD is very manageable. Whatever stage your PAD is found, consulting with our specialists can improve your condition.
While many people with peripheral artery disease have mild or no symptoms, some people will experience symptoms. Symptoms vary but generally include:
- Painful cramping in your hip, thigh or calf muscles after activity, such as walking or climbing stairs
- Leg numbness or weakness
- Coldness in your lower leg or foot, especially when compared with the other side
- Sores on your toes, feet or legs that won't heal
- A change in the color of your legs
- Hair loss or slower hair growth on your feet and legs
- No pulse or a weak pulse in your legs or feet
If untreated, in extreme cases, PAD can actually lead to loss of a limb. However, most people are not at risk and many don’t need surgery.
There are some common risk factors that could lead to PAD.
- High blood pressure
- High levels of “bad” cholesterol
- Increasing age, especially after reaching 50 years of age
- A family history of peripheral artery disease, heart disease or stroke
When it comes to treatment, everyone’s situation can be unique. If lifestyle improvements are not enough, a minimally invasive surgery that includes using a stent or “balloon” to reflate a clogged artery and blood flow might be needed.
PAD can be preventable by leading a healthy lifestyle which includes:
The best way to prevent PAD is with a healthy lifestyle. This includes:
- Quit smoking if you're a smoker
- If you have diabetes, keep your blood sugar in good control
- Exercise regularly
- Lower your cholesterol and blood pressure levels, if applicable
- Eat foods that are low in saturated fat
- Maintain a healthy weight
If someone is concerned, what are signs they should see a doctor?
If you have leg pain, numbness or other symptoms, don't dismiss them as a normal part of aging. Call your doctor and make an appointment. Even if you don't have symptoms of peripheral artery disease, you may need to be screened if you are:
- Over age 70
- Over age 50 and have a history of diabetes or smoking
- Under age 50, but have diabetes and other peripheral artery disease risk factors, such as obesity or high blood pressure
If you have concerns over spider and varicose veins, Dr. Watson and the Spectrum Health team can also address those. These occur due to everything from pregnancy all the way to sun exposure. Fall and winter is actually the best time to treat them.
Free screenings are available, no referral is needed. You can simply call 616-391-VASC (8272) or visit their office at 4069 Lake Dr, Suite 114, Grand Rapids. You may also go online to spectrumhealth.org/vein-screening
In honor of vascular awareness month, The Spectrum Health Cardiovascular Services will be hosting a free screening event on Sept. 11, 2019 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.