While there is no cure for PAD, you can stop it from getting worse and take steps to prevent heart and limb problems.
- Ask about starting a supervised exercise program. This will help you walk more easily and hurt less. It can also help you avoid other forms of heart disease. Make physical activity a routine part of your day.
- Quit smoking or don’t start. This will help you avoid more deadly forms of heart disease. It’s OK if you fail at first. Keep trying. Ask your care team about quit-smoking programs that are proven to help.
- Keep your other medical issues under control. It’s very important to stay on top of diabetes and get your cholesterol and blood pressure to a healthy level. This will help stop your PAD from getting worse.
In addition to exercise and keeping up with other healthy choices, your care team might recommend medicines or treatments. Many of these have the double benefit of helping with PAD while also helping to prevent or slow other forms of heart disease.
Your treatment plan might also include:
- Cilostazol, a medicine that helps open narrowed arteries and makes walking easier
- Cholesterol-lowering drugs, which help prevent plaque from building up in your arteries
- Blood thinners, which help prevent you from developing dangerous blood clots
- Surgeries and medical devices, which can help open blocked arteries so blood can flow better if medications and lifestyle changes don’t work
In PAD, the buildup of plaque in the arteries slows blood flow. This buildup is made up of primarily cholesterol, calcium and other debris. This is the same disease process that blocks the arteries in the heart (causing heart attacks), neck (causing strokes) and elsewhere.
If you have PAD, you have a much higher risk of also having blockages in other arteries throughout your body. Be sure to talk about your risk for heart attack or stroke with your care team.
Living With PAD
If you are living with peripheral artery disease (PAD), you can take steps to help stop your condition from getting worse. Maintain a healthy lifestyle, stay active, don’t smoke, and know how to control other health issues that you may have.
Because of blockages or not enough blood flow to leg muscles, feet and toes, you need to protect these body parts. Blood not only heals, but it also maintains health by sending oxygen and nutrients to your skin and muscles.
Not enough blood flow can lead to a small sore or ulcer. This can become a big problem with slow and poor healing. It might cause infection or a wound that won’t heal. It could even lead to loss of a leg or foot if the skin or tissue dies (gangrene). If you have PAD, you should not walk barefoot but wear shoes that fit you. Examine your feet each day for redness or sores.
You may need to use a mirror to see the soles of your feet or have a family member help you. Feel all around the foot for bumps, sores or tenderness. You might also see a podiatrist on a regular basis depending on how advanced the PAD is and what other risk factors you have.
PAD can also slowly rob you of your ability to be active. Your muscles need oxygen and blood to work, provide strength and balance. You may notice heaviness in your legs or cramping while walking.
If you feel you can’t do as much as you used to or if you notice you are walking shorter distances or more slowly, you should talk to your care team.
At later stages of PAD, pain while you are at rest can occur. If you find you are less active or can’t keep up with others, it could mean your PAD has gotten worse.
Focus on You
Remember, you are the most important member of your health care team. Speak up about your preferences and what matters most to you when it comes to your care.
If it’s hard to stick with your treatment plan, ask for help finding ways to make it easier. You can do this!