Like most of us, a trip to your primary care physician or cardiologist for a screening test may not be top of mind. Indeed, looking out for a condition like peripheral artery disease or PAD – something you may not know much about – is likely lower on the list than even a dreaded colonoscopy or stress test. However, with the significant increase in PAD incidence over the past few decades, public awareness still has not caught up to the severity of the problem. That said, with the advent of faster testing options and a better understanding of the disease, both from clinicians and patients, we are starting to catch patients earlier in its progression.
We encourage you to learn more about the four stages of PAD here.
Stage one is asymptomatic – So what should I do? Because the earliest stages of PAD are asymptomatic, meaning that there are no outward symptoms that would suggest you have a problem, many Americans go undiagnosed. However, catching it during this asymptomatic stage allows you to work with your cardiovascular specialist, like Dr. Farrugia to prevent it from progressing. Finding it early gives you the most treatment options and may delay or prevent an interventional procedure later. Further, if your peripheral arteries are occluded, it may suggest that your coronary arteries may be as well, and you may be at higher risk of a heart attack.
What Can I Do at Home?
First, you must educate yourself about peripheral artery disease and its risk factors. If you have lived with high cholesterol and you have reached middle age, there is a chance that plaque has started building in your arteries. This risk is exacerbated if you are a smoker, have type 2 diabetes, live a sedentary lifestyle or have a family history of heart disease. It may be comforting to know that PAD screening is as simple and painless as the blood pressure tests you get before your appointment. Regardless of your specific insurance coverage, PAD testing is also very affordable.
Next, look out for any changes in feeling or appearance in your legs. Classic PAD symptoms may include shiny skin, a cold feeling in the legs, starting to lose hair on the legs, and pain or discomfort when exercising with your lower extremities. These sensations may come and go, especially early on, but don’t ignore them even if they are transient.
While we do not encourage at-home diagnosis of any disease, you can also learn more about PAD by performing a straightforward at-home test. Lift your leg above 60 degrees and keep it there for between 30 and 60 seconds. You may have a blood flow problem if you start feeling numbness, coldness, or pain in the elevated extremity. If you feel any of these sensations, scheduling an appointment with a PAD specialist like Dr. Farrugia is essential to early treatment.
All the risk factors and symptoms associated with PAD can also indicate more cardiovascular problems, so don’t ignore it!
Ultimately knowledge is critical, and while you can’t make a definitive PAD diagnosis at home, you can take steps to understand your risk of PAD and decide to seek treatment from your specialist