Why Diabetes Increases The Risk Of Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)?

Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) is the result of untreated atherosclerosis, a hardening of the blood vessels most commonly caused by a buildup of plaque. Individuals with PAD often experience claudication (mild to severe leg pain while walking or climbing stairs); in extreme cases, PAD can cause ischemic rest pain: severe pain in the legs, feet or toes even when the individual is not walking or climbing stairs.

Beyond the onset of PAD, without proper diagnosis and treatment, atherosclerosis can lead to Coronary Artery Disease (CAD), the most common form of heart disease in America, and atherothrombotic strokes. Therefore, for many individuals, PAD can serve as an early sign that they are at increased risk of potentially life-threatening diseases or medical events.

It is, of course, not advisable for individuals to wait for the onset of PAD symptoms before taking action. Individuals would do well to schedule a screening for atherosclerosis, particularly those in the following categories who are at particular risk of developing PAD:

  • Individuals over the age of 70;
  • Individuals over the age of 50 with a medical history of diabetes or smoking, or;
  • Individuals under the age of 50 with a medical history of diabetes, smoking, obesity, and/or high blood pressure

Individuals suffering from diabetes have a higher risk of developing atherosclerosis and, as a result, its attendant medical issues — including PAD. A study by the University of Rochester Medical Center found that the elevated risk is due to the increased inflammation and decreased blood flow common in patients with diabetes.

Moreover, the onset of diabetes typically means that an individual also possesses one (or more) of the traits most commonly associated with PAD, including high blood pressure, obesity, or physical activity.

The respective manifestations of the diseases are also remarkably similar. Both diabetics and PAD sufferers are particularly susceptible to developing critical limb ischemia (open sores on the legs or feet that do not heal on their own); left untreated, critical limb ischemia often leads to gangrene which may require amputation of the infected limb.

While it is recommended that individuals be screened regularly for atherosclerosis (particularly those in the aforementioned populations), patients with diabetes should take extra care to monitor their condition with their medical provider. Doing so will help patients to ensure that their diabetes does not manifest itself in the form of atherosclerosis and, by extension, PAD, CAD or stroke.

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