The vascular system is an amazing collection of arteries, vessels and capillaries that aid in the proper circulation of blood throughout the body.
The average person doesn’t give much thought to this superhighway system in their body until something like a blockage keeps it from properly working. The vascular system can become compromised just about anywhere in the body — from a person’s head down to their feet — and in most cases it happens without a warning sign.
“There are many different types of vascular diseases,” said Srikanth Sadhu, MD, a cardiologist with Miami Valley Cardiologists. “We have cardiovascular disease, which is mainly blockages in heart arteries, and cerebrovascular disease, which is in the brain and the neck arteries and can cause strokes. Last, but not least, we have peripheral artery disease, which refers to the blockages of arteries in the abdomen or limbs.”
Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is perhaps one of the most common forms of vascular disease and the one for which physicians like Dr. Sadhu urge patients to be screened. About 20 million Americans have PAD of which up to four million have an artery blocked so badly that it poses a risk for limb amputation, he said.
“The most concerning part about this is that a majority of these patients are either minimally symptomatic or have no symptoms at all,” said Dr. Sadhu, who practices with Premier Physician Network. “This means they have no symptoms until their disease progresses into the more advanced stages.”
Screening for vascular diseases like PAD is critical since they can occur with no symptoms. Those who should be screened include smokers, older adults over the age of 70, people with diabetes and high blood pressure, and anyone who has experienced prior cardiac events, Dr. Sadhu said.
Screening is also important because the discovery of PAD in a person likely means they are at-risk for coronary artery disease or cerebrovascular disease as well.
“If you don’t diagnose a person and it continues to progress it means it can eventually lead to a state where a small cut on their leg leads to the loss of a toe or leg,” he said. “Most importantly, the failure to diagnose means a person is walking around with a higher likelihood of suffering a heart attack or stroke and doesn’t know it.”
A thorough medical history and clinical exam are the first line of diagnosis for PAD. From there several different tests may be performed to diagnose vascular disease, and which one is chosen depends on the symptoms and area of concern. Tests include the use of ultrasounds, Dopplers, and Ankle Brachial Index (ABI), which measures blood pressure in arms and ankle levels. After these tests, CT angiogram or conventional angiogram may be necessary to further diagnose and treat the PAD.
Dr. Sadhu urges adults to consider their risk for vascular disease and be proactive in consulting their physician about whether they should undergo screening.
Never too late for prevention: All Americans should lead a healthier lifestyle to ensure they remain low risk for vascular disease. Eat a healthy diet, get exercise, quit smoking and manage diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure. A positive screening test may only require lifestyle changes and regular physician checkups.
Be on the lookout: Know the classic signs for PAD: cramping in the calf, thighs or buttocks when you walk and fades when you stop moving. Pain at rest during the night or pain in a leg that resolves when you shake your leg.
Early care means hope: Simple awareness of vascular disease and choosing to reduce certain risk factors can go a long way in preventing the disease. Early screening and careful collaboration with physicians can significantly alter the outcome for those diagnosed with PAD.
For more information on vascular screenings or to find a Premier Physician Network physician near you, visit www.PremierPhysicianNet.com.
Premier Physician Network is one of the largest groups of pediatrics, family medicine, internal medicine, and urgent care practices in southwest Ohio. For more information, go online to www.premierphysiciannet.com.