Can Peripheral Artery Disease Affect Heart Health?

red rubber heart and stethoscope on blue background with cardiogram, health concept; blog: Can Peripheral Artery Disease Affect Heart Health?

The kinds of vascular diseases we treat at Preferred Vascular Group affect the arteries and veins outside of the heart. However, these conditions can be linked to heart issues. Because February is American Heart Month, we are going to take a look at how peripheral artery disease can affect heart health.

What is Peripheral Artery Disease?

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a condition in which a fatty substance called plaque builds up in the peripheral arteries. The peripheral arteries are responsible for carrying oxygenated blood away from the heart to your legs, stomach, arms, and head. The process in which plaque builds up in the arteries is known as atherosclerosis. As atherosclerosis progresses, the arteries become narrower and blood flow is slowed or blocked. 

Some people with PAD do not experience symptoms of the disease. For others symptoms are mild. The most common symptom is claudication, which is pain or cramping in the legs or hips triggered by activities such as walking. Other symptoms include:

  • Leg numbness or weakness
  • Color changes in the legs
  • Cold in one lower leg or foot
  • Hair loss or slow hair growth on legs
  • Shiny skin on the legs
  • Sores on the legs, feet, or toes that do not heal
  • Slow toenail growth
  • Weak or absent pulse in the legs and feet
  • Erectile dysfunction in men

Risk Factors for Peripheral Artery Disease

The risk of developing peripheral artery disease increases with age. Smoking can also significantly increase your risk. Other conditions are linked to an elevated risk of developing PAD, including:

  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Ischemic heart disease (also known as coronary artery disease)
  • Metabolic syndrome

PAD & Heart Health

According to the American Heart Association, people with PAD are at higher risk of developing coronary artery disease (CAD). The risk of heart attack and stroke is also higher in those who have PAD. Your circulatory system is important for all parts of the body to function. Because it is a network of arteries and veins, a blockage in one place can potentially impact blood flow in other parts of the body and may eventually affect the heart.

Additionally, PAD can be a warning sign of systemic atherosclerosis. Systemic atherosclerosis affects arteries throughout the entire body. If you have PAD you probably have atherosclerosis in other places, including the heart. If the arteries that lead back to the heart become clogged, it can lead to a heart attack. PAD can also be linked to stroke for the same reason.

Managing PAD (While Protecting Heart Health)

The same things that put you at risk for PAD are also linked to cardiovascular diseases like coronary artery disease. PAD and other vascular diseases need to be treated and managed in similar ways. The changes you make to manage PAD will also benefit your heart health.

  • If you’re a smoker, quit. Quitting can be difficult, but it is worth the effort. Talk to your doctor about ways you can safely stop smoking.
  • Follow the dietary guidelines approved by your doctor. A healthy diet is important in managing most health conditions, and vascular disease is no different.
  • Get regular exercise. Being sedentary is bad for your overall health and can worsen PAD. If you have not exercised in a long time, talk to your doctor about 
  • Manage your blood sugar if you are diabetic.

Medications may also be prescribed to control symptoms or treat associated health conditions like high blood pressure or high cholesterol. In cases where the condition is severe enough, surgery may be necessary. Two procedures used treat PAD are angioplasty with stenting and atherectomy.

At Preferred Vascular Group, our physicians and staff have years of experience providing comprehensive vascular care to patients in Georgia and Ohio. We specialize in treating arterial diseases like PAD and can help you manage it to improve your life (and protect your heart health).

If you would like to schedule an appointment at Preferred Vascular Group to have a consult with a Board-Certified physician or would like to have one of our highly trained care providers reach out to you, please click on a button below: