Can PAD Cause Death? – Is PAD Fatal If Left Untreated?
When it comes to heart health, the diseases most commonly highlighted are those which directly affect the heart; many individuals are aware of and actively take steps to prevent the onset of more well-known diseases like Coronary Artery Disease (CAD). Understanding the risks associated with CAD can help individuals live a long and healthy life, but without a clear understanding of the conditions that can lead to heart disease, individuals are still at risk.
One such condition that is often overlooked is Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD); though not as well-known as CAD, PAD serves as an early-warning indicator of impending heart disease. And though their manifestations differ, both PAD and CAD share enough similarities that early detection and proper treatment is of the utmost importance.
Like CAD, PAD is caused by atherosclerosis, a buildup of plaque in the artery walls that leads to a narrowing of the blood vessels. Left untreated, atherosclerosis can eventually lead to CAD, a severe condition that is also the leading cause of death in America. Before atherosclerosis leads to CAD, however, individuals commonly experience symptoms of PAD.
PAD’s symptoms manifest at and below the waist; in a majority of cases, PAD presents as intermittent claudication (pain in the hips, legs or feet while walking or climbing stairs); in more severe instances, PAD can also cause ischemic rest pain. PAD commonly affects individuals in one of the following groups:
- Individuals over the age of 70;
- Individuals over the age of 50 with a history of diabetes or smoking, or;
- Individuals under the age of 50 with a history of diabetes, smoking, obesity, and/or high blood pressure.
Unfortunately, unless the medical provider is specifically screening for PAD, the disease is notoriously difficult to diagnose. The pain is frequently mild enough that medical providers whose patients meet the risk criteria for PAD are likely to attribute the claudication to any other number of factors.
For patients over the age of 70, mild to moderate claudication is as likely to be a sign of simple aging as it is an indicator of PAD, while patients with a medical history of diabetes, smoking, obesity and/or high blood pressure are susceptible to any number of comorbidities besides PAD to which the claudication may be attributed.
While PAD itself is not fatal, the comorbidities that arise as a result of untreated PAD — such as CAD and cerebrovascular disease, a leading cause of strokes — can be. As such, although an individual is unlikely to die as a direct result of PAD, proper detection and treatment of PAD can save lives.
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