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Peripheral Artery Disease

The peripheral arteries feed the arms, hands, legs and feet with oxygen-rich blood. The legs are particularly susceptible to peripheral artery disease (PAD), a common condition affecting millions of Americans over 50. PAD develops when the peripheral arteries narrow due to the buildup of fatty deposits (plaque). Reducing blood flow to the limbs as well as other parts of the body, PAD can lead to atherosclerosis and then potentially, heart attack, stroke or limb loss.

Risk factors for PAD may include:

  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Elevated cholesterol
  • Obesity

Signs & Symptoms | Screening & Diagnosis | Treatment Options

Signs and Symptoms

Most people with PAD have no idea they have the condition. Pain or cramping in your hip, thigh or legs, especially after walking, which goes away when you stop or rest may indicate one of the most common symptoms: intermittent claudication (IC). Your legs may also feel heavy, tight or weak after physical activity.

Common PAD symptoms include:

  • Weak, tingling or numb legs
  • Aching feet or toes while resting
  • Leg or foot sores that fail to heal
  • Discoloration (shades of blue to dark red) in one or both legs or feet
  • One lower leg or foot colder than the other
  • Loss of hair on the legs
  • Male impotence

Screening and Diagnosis

NorthShore’s vascular surgery specialists rely on their vast experience and expertise to accurately screen and diagnose patients with PAD. During your comprehensive evaluation, one of our experienced board-certified vascular surgeons will ask you about your medical history and conduct a physical exam. The physician expert may conduct tests to measure the pulse in the arteries running up and down your legs and feet. Blood tests for cholesterol other indicators of arterial disease may also be ordered.

With access to the latest imaging tools, your NorthShore physician expert may employ one or several diagnostic tests including duplex ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, computed tomography (CT) scan and angiography.

Treatment Options

Mild cases of PAD respond well to lifestyle changes. Adopting a healthy diet, exercising regularly (i.e., walking 30 minutes a day, 3 days a week), quitting smoking and controlling other health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol can slow and prevent further plaque buildup. Your vascular surgeon may recommend medications, from statins to lower cholesterol to anticoagulants to “thin” your blood for better flow and to prevent blood clots.

Severe narrowing of the peripheral arteries in the leg may require one of several treatment strategies, depending on your unique situation. At NorthShore, our vascular surgery specialists are experts in performing minimally-invasive and open surgical procedures to achieve the best outcomes for patients.

  • 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.

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.