Peripheral artery disease care
If peripheral artery disease (PAD) is affecting your day-to-day life, our specialists can help you overcome your symptoms so you can get back to the life you love.
What is peripheral artery disease?
Peripheral artery disease (PAD) occurs when the arteries in the legs are narrowed, limiting blood flow to your muscles. It’s a common circulation problem that typically develops in the legs and is caused by fatty deposits (plaque) that build up in the walls of your arteries. Other causes of PAD include:
- Blood vessel inflammation
- Radiation exposure
- Injury to your limbs
In serious cases, PAD may indicate a widespread accumulation of fatty deposits in your arteries. This can slow the flow of blood to your heart and brain, in addition to your legs.
Peripheral artery disease symptoms
PAD can cause leg pain, especially when walking. In extreme cases, it can completely block blood flow in the limbs, which can result in ulcers or gangrene. Often, PAD symptoms don’t appear until the disease has progressed.
Symptoms of peripheral artery disease include:
- Brittle toenails
- Changes in your skin on your legs, including paleness, a bluish tint or shiny skin
- Coldness in your feet or lower legs
- Difficulty finding your pulse in your leg or foot
- Erectile dysfunction
- Hair loss on your feet and legs
- Intermittent pain in your thigh, calf or hips
- Slow-growing toenails
Peripheral artery disease risk factors
Certain behaviors, genetic makeup and risk factors can increase your chances of developing peripheral artery disease. These include:
- Smoking: Smoking causes reduced blood flow, which can increase your chances of developing PAD.
- Age: As we get older, plaque builds up in our arteries and affects blood flow, which increases the risk of developing peripheral artery disease.
- Diabetes: People with diabetes have reduced blood flow, which can increase the likelihood of developing PAD. Properly managing your blood sugar can help lower your risk of developing peripheral artery disease.
- Family history: If your family has a history of vascular disease, you have a higher risk of developing PAD.
- Gender: Men are more prone to developing PAD than women.
- High blood pressure and high cholesterol: If you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, you may have a higher risk of developing peripheral artery disease.
- Obesity and physical inactivity: Being obese or physically inactive can increase your risk of developing peripheral artery disease. Just 30 minutes of activity, 5 days a week can help you manage your weight and increase your activity level.
Diagnosing peripheral artery disease
Our experienced team of vascular specialists is experienced in diagnosing and treating PAD.
Tests to diagnose peripheral artery disease may include:
- Physical exam – During a physical exam, your doctor will examine your pulse and blood pressure to help diagnose PAD.
- Ankle-brachial index (ABI) – This painless exam is the most common test used to diagnose PAD. Your doctor will measure and compare the blood pressure in your ankle to the blood pressure in your arm.
- Angiography – An angiography is a test that uses special dyes to help your doctor see inside your arteries when an X-ray is performed. This test will help provide the most accurate diagnosis and treatment plan to offer relief from your varicose disease symptoms. An angiography is sometimes performed with a computed tomography (CT) scan.
- Blood tests – A blood test may be done to check your cholesterol and triglycerides while also checking for diabetes — a risk factor for PAD.
- Ultrasound – An ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of the inside of your body, including your veins. These can allow your doctor to check for any blood clots and to monitor the flow of your blood.
Peripheral artery disease treatment
With the area’s largest vascular medicine program, our vascular specialists have extensive experience in treating PAD. We can help minimize pain through medications while treating PAD with non-surgical treatments or minimally invasive procedures.
Depending on your situation, one or more of the following treatments may be recommended:
Your surgeon may perform one of these procedures to treat your blocked veins:
- Laser therapy – By sending strong bursts of light onto your blocked veins, laser treatment helps to unblock your arteries. Your vascular surgeon will not need to make any incisions for laser treatment.
- Balloon angioplasty – In this minimally invasive procedure, a small balloon is inserted into the artery using a catheter. The balloon presses the plaque buildup against the artery walls, thereby opening the passage to improve blood flow.
- Stenting – If your arteries become blocked with plaque, a stent can help restore blood flow. During a stent procedure, your vascular surgeon will insert a thin, mesh, metal tube (called a stent) into your blocked artery. This tube expands and increases the flow of blood throughout your veins.
- Endovascular surgery – Endovascular surgery is a minimally invasive procedure that enables your surgeon to access your blood vessels though a small incision and a catheter
For certain PAD cases, surgery may be necessary. Bypass surgery is performed for severe blockages by creating a new path for blood to flow around your blockage. Your surgeon will use a vein — either from another part of your body or an artificial one — to allow blood to flow around the blocked or narrowed artery.
Peripheral artery disease care at Geisinger
Our vascular specialists are dedicated to providing personalized care and helping you feel your best. With the area’s largest vascular medicine program, our specialists are available 24/7. We offer:
- Advanced care – Primary care doctors (your main doctor) often send individuals to us because of our advanced vascular labs. Here, we can perform many non-invasive diagnostic tests, helping us refine your diagnosis and determine the best treatment.
- Minimally invasive surgery – We use minimally invasive techniques whenever possible. This means smaller surgical incisions, shorter recovery and a faster return to your daily activities.
- High-tech endovascular suites – Our state-of-the-art operating suites include the imaging capabilities of a catheterization lab. This allows our surgeons to perform procedures that require both vascular surgery and image-guided techniques simultaneously. So not only can you have multiple procedures at once, you’ll only have to undergo anesthesia and recover once.
- Comprehensive vascular care – Our vascular specialists are dedicated to offering innovative treatment options and personalized care. We collaborate with specialists across our health system, including heart, cardiothoracic and nephrology experts, to provide you with the best possible care.