Home Am I at Risk? Other Heart Disease - PAD

Other Heart Disease - PAD

Peripheral Artery Disease

What is it?

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a disease of the arteries outside the heart and brain. PAD affects about 8 million Americans, including 12% to 20% of women and men aged 65 or older.1

Common early symptoms of PAD are cramping, heaviness, fatigue, pain or discomfort in the legs or buttocks during activity, called intermittent claudication. However, not all people with PAD have symptoms: in one study of 933 disabled women older than 65, 63% of those with PAD had no leg pain with activity.4

The standard test for diagnosing PAD is a simple comparison of blood pressure measurements in the arm and leg called the Ankle Brachial Index, or ABI. If your ABI number is low (less than 0.9), other imaging tests may be needed.

How is it related to stroke?

Like CAD, PAD is related to stroke because they are both a result of the same disease process: atherosclerosis. In PAD, the fatty buildup blocks circulation in arteries leading to the kidneys, stomach, legs, arms, or feet. PAD is often the first sign of atherosclerosis that is affecting the arteries of your heart and brain as well, and could eventually lead to a heart attack or stroke.

How does it affect my stroke risk?

Compared to those without PAD, people with PAD have 4 to 5 times the risk of dying of cardiovascular disease.5 Overall, studies indicate that PAD increases your chances of suffering a stroke by about 40%.5

PAD is generally accepted to be a risk factor for stroke in both women and men, although so far evidence from clinical trials linking PAD to stroke risk in women is lacking. The ARIC study of more than 15,000 people (55% were women) found that men with PAD in the legs were 4 to 5 times as likely to have a stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA), but there was no significant difference in stroke risk between women with and without PAD after adjustment for other factors.6 These results suggest that, at least in women, PAD may not increase stroke risk on its own; rather, PAD and stroke share enough risk factors that a woman with one disease is likely to be at high risk for the other.

What can I do to prevent stroke?

Despite being a very common disease, only 1 out of every 4 people with PAD are undergoing treatment.7 PAD often goes undiagnosed, so it is important to go to your doctor with any symptoms that could signal PAD—pain in your legs or buttocks with activity that goes away with rest is not a normal part of aging. Since PAD can be the first sign of widespread artery disease, you should consider it an opportunity to get your risk factors under control before they lead to a potentially fatal heart attack or stroke.

Like CAD, PAD shares many risk factors for stroke, and the treatments that are recommended for relieving your PAD symptoms and preventing the disease from getting any worse will also help lower your stroke risk. The most important things are to quit smoking (80% of people with PAD are smokers), control your diabetes, cholesterol, and blood pressure, and make lifestyle changes such as eating a diet low in saturated fat and starting an exercise regimen. You may also start taking blood-thinning medication to prevent the formation of clots that can lead to a stroke. Medication is also available to relieve some of the leg pain caused by PAD.

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