How Can PAD Lead to Heart Attack & Stroke? Effects & Symptoms
Of all the medical conditions that might affect an individual, Americans are particularly concerned with the risk of heart disease and stroke. A 2010 survey by Harris Interactive found that heart disease and stroke were two of the top five diseases feared most by Americans.
These concerns are well-founded; heart disease and stroke can dramatically impact an individual’s quality of life — or even prove fatal, depending on the severity. But while Americans rightfully fear these risks, far too many individuals are unaware of a condition that can serve as an early-warning indicator of an impending cardiac or cerebrovascular incident: Peripheral Artery Disease, or PAD.
Heart attacks are most commonly caused by untreated Coronary Artery Disease (CAD), and the most common form of stroke is an atherothrombotic stroke; however, these afflictions do not occur overnight. The root cause of CAD and atherothrombotic strokes is untreated atherosclerosis, a hardening of the blood vessels due to plaque buildup. But before untreated atherosclerosis progresses to CAD or an atherothrombotic stroke, it can first present as PAD.
PAD is most commonly found in the following patient populations:
- 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
There are many symptoms of PAD, but in nearly every case, PAD sufferers experience intermittent claudication — leg, hip or foot pain while walking or climbing stairs. The severity of the leg pain can vary wildly; some patients may only feel minor discomfort, while others may experience extreme pain. For many individuals in the patient populations listed above, these symptoms can be the first indicator that they may need to schedule a screening for atherosclerosis with their primary care physician.
Because of the ages and/or potential comorbidities of these populations, many providers dismiss the symptoms as neuropathy related to aging or other existing conditions. However, additional symptoms — such as leg numbness or weakness, a change in leg color known as brawny edema, hair loss on the legs and feet, or thickening or loss of toenails — can help providers more accurately determine whether the claudication is simple neuropathy or an indicator of PAD.
In many instances, PAD can be treated with simple lifestyle changes. In more advanced cases, pharmaceutical or surgical intervention (including blood pressure medications, angioplasty, or thrombolytic therapy) may be required. Early detection and treatment of PAD can help lower the odds of a more severe medical event — including heart attack and stroke.
You might also be interested in: Can a Person Die from PAD?