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Peripheral Artery Disease

The peripheral arteries work to bring oxygen-rich blood to the arms, hands, legs and feet. Narrowing of these arteries due to atherosclerosis can lead to inadequate blood supply to organs. Peripheral artery disease (PAD), a common condition, affecting some 200 million people worldwide and more than 8 percent of Americans. Often progressing “silently,” this condition can remain asymptomatic for years.  Some patients may experience pain with walking, while others may face an acute limb threatening emergency. Many individuals with peripheral artery disease simultaneously suffer from heart disease, putting them at risk for developing a heart attack or stroke.

Risk factors for PAD may include:

  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Elevated cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Family history of PAD
  • Age

Signs & Symptoms | Screening & Diagnosis | Treatment Options

Signs and Symptoms

The classic signs of peripheral artery disease include leg cramps, a heavy-feeling leg and leg pain. Leg fatigue with walking, which goes away when you stop or rest, is known as intermittent claudication.  More severe forms of PAD may show up as leg pain at rest or even at night.

Lingering leg or foot sores that fail to heal or discoloration of toes or feet may be signs of more advanced disease. These symptoms typically require urgent medical attention.

Erectile dysfunction in men may also signal peripheral artery disease.

Screening and Diagnosis

NorthShore’s vascular specialists rely on their vast experience and expertise to accurately screen and diagnose patients with PAD. Screening for at-risk and high-risk population can result in the timelier diagnosis of peripheral artery disease. Appropriate medical management in the early stages of the disease can reduce the risk of other cardiovascular conditions such as a mild heart attack, stroke or another organ dysfunction. Screening also reduces the risk of disease progression in peripheral arteries and risk of limb loss.

With access to the latest imaging tools, your NorthShore physician expert may employ one or several noninvasive diagnostic tests. The most common test is the Ankle Brachial Index (ABI). The cornerstone of peripheral artery disease diagnosis, ABI is calculated through the use of Doppler technology to record blood pressure measurements of the arms and legs. Other advanced imaging technology like duplex ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scan can help in your peripheral artery disease management and care. 

Treatment and Management

Treating and managing mild to severe peripheral artery disease requires a collaborative effort. At NorthShore, our multidisciplinary team of vascular surgeons, vascular medicine specialists and other clinical medicine experts work closely with you to develop a personalized care plan for your unique situation.

While mild cases of PAD respond well to lifestyle changes and/or medications, severe narrowing of the peripheral arteries in the leg may result in limb loss in a short period of time. Acute onset of leg pain, leg numbness, pale skin or inability to move your leg may be due to a serious condition called acute limb ischemia. This condition requires immediate medical attention from an experienced vascular surgery team to restore blood flow to salvage and save your limb.

To achieve the best outcomes, treatment and management of peripheral artery disease may include:

  • Adapting appropriate life-style behaviors, including a healthy diet and regular exercise.
  • Optimal medical management at every stage of the disease.
  • Procedures to restore blood flow and resolve blockages. At NorthShore, we offer advanced minimally invasive and open surgical procedures performed by board-certified vascular surgeons. These treatment options include:
    • Endarterectomy—A type of open surgery, endarterectomy literally involves removing plaque from inside the narrowed artery. Through an incision in your leg, the fatty deposit is extracted from the inner lining of the blood vessel. Local or general anesthesia may be used.
    • Bypass Surgery—This approach circumvents the area of blockage by creating an alternative route for blood to flow through the artery. Your vascular surgeon will either attach one of your own veins or a manmade graft (tube) above and below the affected portion of the artery to build a detour.
    • Angioplasty and Stenting—Minimally-invasive balloon angioplasty may be recommended to open up a blocked peripheral artery. Performed by our experienced vascular surgeons, this innovative procedure is used to make room in a narrowed artery for a stent. Acting as a miniature scaffold, the stent props up the arterial walls and allows blood to freely flow through the artery.
    • Atherectomy—A type of minimally invasive procedure, atherectomy utilizes endovascular devices for removing atherosclerotic plaques from the lumen (interior) of the arteries to restore blood flow.
  • Vascular rehabilitation and supervised exercise programs.

For More Information

Please call 847.663.8050 for more information on peripheral artery disease or to schedule an appointment with one of our vascular specialists.