What Is Peripheral Artery Disease?
Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is when arteries in the limbs (usually the legs) develop atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is when cholesterol-rich deposits, called plaques, burrow into the inner lining of the arteries. The plaques cause inflammation and injury, and ultimately, blockages in blood flow.
One devastating result of PAD, if left unchecked, is gangrene and amputations.
Having peripheral artery disease also greatly increases your risk of other types of atherosclerotic-related events, such as heart attacks and strokes.
Roughly 8 million Americans have PAD. Disease prevalence increases with age. Currently, PAD afflicts 12 to 20% of Americans age 65 and older.
What Is Claudication?
Claudication is a symptom of peripheral artery disease. It is discomfort or pain in the legs, often described as crampy or throbbing. Symptoms are most common in the calf muscles.
But you may not always feel intense pain. Sometimes it’s just tightness, heaviness, or weakness in one or both of the legs.
Claudication is often referred to as intermittent claudication because the pain comes and goes. You feel it when you walk. It stops when you stop walking.
Muscle That’s “Crying”
“Essentially, claudication is the result of the tissue not receiving enough oxygen-rich blood. It is the muscle crying from oxygen starvation,” states Dr. Seth Marquit, MD.
“Claudication is to the legs what angina [chest pain] is to the heart. Both result from decreased flow of oxygen-rich blood.”
About one-third of people with PAD have claudication.
That’s right, many people with PAD do not have symptoms. That’s a big problem because it’s human nature to think that if we’re not feeling pain, everything’s okay.
With PAD, nothing could be further from the truth. Even when silent, or asymptomatic, PAD is causing havoc within (more on this later).
What Are the Risk Factors For Peripheral Artery Disease?
The key risk factors for PAD are similar to the key risk factors for heart disease and include:
- Type 2 diabetes
- High blood pressure
- Unhealthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Advanced age (older than 60)
- Reduced nitric oxide production
Research has found that having type 2 diabetes triples the risk of peripheral artery disease. And the longer you have diabetes, the worse your PAD tends to get.
Getting control of diabetes early on, therefore, may be especially beneficial in staving off peripheral artery disease and its crippling consequences.
With lifestyle changes like heart-healthy eating and regular physical activity, prevention and control of type 2 diabetes can happen quickly, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine found. Following 67 people with the metabolic syndrome, a pre-diabetic condition, the scientists documented that within 12 to 15 days of beginning a diet and exercise program, blood glucose, blood pressure, and LDL cholesterol fell by 10 to 15%, and triglycerides plummeted 36%.
Moreover, 37% of the subjects were able to reverse their diagnosis of metabolic syndrome.
Other studies have affirmed the value of diet and exercise in significantly reducing blood glucose levels, and for many people, reducing or eliminating the need for diabetes medications.
Many scientists assert that the most important thing people can do to prevent and control PAD is to quit smoking. Research has found that PAD patients who quit smoking are less likely to have limbs amputated or suffer heart attacks or strokes compared to PAD patients who do not quit smoking.
What’s more, those who quit smoking are much more likely to see improvements in leg pain.
High blood pressure, especially when combined with other cardiovascular risk factors like smoking and diabetes, increases the chances for PAD.
The good news: Intensive blood pressure control has been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular events in people with peripheral artery disease and type 2 diabetes, and help reduce symptoms of claudication.
Lifestyle improvements can help get blood pressure under control. So compelling are the data on the effectiveness of healthy lifestyle change in preventing and controlling hypertension that the American Heart Association, among several health organizations, now teaches that a healthy lifestyle is “critical for the prevention of high blood pressure and an indispensable part of managing it.”
The National Cholesterol Education Program Adult Treatment Panel III identified PAD patients as being the highest risk group for future coronary events like heart attacks.
The Panel recommended an intensive lowering of lipids (cholesterol and triglyceride levels) to prevent or manage PAD.
Cholesterol- and triglyceride-lowering have also been found to reduce claudication pain.
With a healthy lifestyle, cholesterol and triglycerides often fall dramatically.
The Benefits Of Exercise
Health organizations like the American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association state that structured exercise rehabilitation programs are one of the most effective ways to improve claudication pain.
In a meta-analysis12 of 21 published studies, scientists concluded that PAD exercise programs increased pain-free walking time by 179% and overall walking time by 122%. The greatest benefits occurred when the men and women were exercising five times weekly, and for a total of 30 to 45 minutes.
Certainly, for claudication patients, it hurts to walk. But it is important, under physician supervision, to push through the pain, states exercise researcher James Barnard, Ph.D., distinguished professor emeritus at UCLA.
In his studies on people with PAD at the Pritikin Longevity Center, Dr. Barnard and colleagues directed the participants to walk to the point of severe leg pain, then sit down and rest, and then, when the pain subsided, get up and walk again.
“This process was repeated until the patient had walked for 45 to 60 minutes.” The rationale for exercising to the point of severe pain was “to stimulate the formation of collateral vessels around the blockage to improve blood flow to the lower leg,” wrote Dr. Barnard in his recently published book Understanding Common Diseases and the Value of the Pritikin Eating and Exercise Program.
“I don’t have leg pain, so aren’t I okay?”
As mentioned earlier, the majority of people with PAD do not have symptoms, but the damage is very likely happening within.
In fact, those with symptom-free PAD have a risk of cardiovascular events such as heart attacks that are equal to that of people diagnosed with advanced heart disease.
And sadly, because symptoms may be nonexistent or mild (many people with leg pain think it’s simply aging or arthritis), many cases of PAD go undiagnosed.
The good news is that diagnosis of PAD does not require expensive, extensive, and invasive testing.
“First, your physician will do something very simple – feel your ankles to check for pulses,” states Dr. Barnard. “If no pulses are felt, your doctor will likely recommend a test called ankle-brachial index.”
Ankle-Brachial Index (ABI)
Using a Doppler ultrasound device, an ABI takes your systolic blood pressure (the top number) at the ankle and compares it to the systolic blood pressure at your upper arm (brachial) arteries.
The testing can facilitate early detection of peripheral artery disease and prescriptions for lifestyle strategies like healthy eating and exercise rehabilitation that can help halt the progression of PAD and cardiovascular disease in general.
An all-natural option
Stronvivo is an all-natural formula of known and clinically proven nitric oxide precursors and blood flow enhancers. Consisting of L-Arginine, L-Citrulline, L-Carnitine, Magnesium, and Zinc, Stronvivo delivers a therapeutic dosage that boosts the production of nitric oxide, improves circulation, increases blood flow, and improves the health of the endothelium/cardiovascular system while reducing leg pain, PAD, and claudication. Men and women taking Stronvivo have reported more energy, less fatigue, reduced pain, relief from Restless Legs Syndrome, and improved blood flow.