We want to tell you about the signs of PAD men and women need to know. Because we want to raise awareness for heart disease. And PAD is just that.
Remember: peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) occurs when plaque in your arteries slows the flow of blood from your heart to the rest of your body. That ‘plaque’ is mostly composed of cholesterol, calcium, fibrin, and fatty substances. As it collects in your arteries, they narrow and harden (Atherosclerosis). And, as the rest of your body gets limited blood flow, they aren’t able to function optimally. Some people with PAD will experience symptoms right away. Others won’t know they have a problem in the early stages of this disease. And, even when PAD does cause symptoms, it can be difficult to diagnose, since these symptoms often mimic those of other conditions. Of course, there’s one more issue that can make it difficult to treat diagnose PAD: the disease may look different in men than in women. Let’s take a closer look.
What are the Symptoms of PAD?
As we mentioned, you could have PAD and not experience any symptoms. Still, all of the following are considered PAD symptoms. If you experience one or more of these issues, you should talk to your vein specialists right away. Symptoms of PAD include coldness or numbness of the legs and feet, discoloration in the legs, cramping of the hips, thighs, or calf muscles and difficulty in healing from minor wounds of the legs or feet.
You may also notice burning or aching sensations of the feet, poor toenail growth, pain while or soon after walking, slowed hair growth on the legs. In men, you may even see erectile dysfunction,
Now that we’ve reviewed PAD presentations for both genders, let’s explore some of the different ways the disease manifests by gender.
What Does PAD Look Like for Men vs. Women?
Men seem to develop PAD symptoms earlier than women, although that is not always the case. As a result, male PAD patients may see their doctors sooner, allowing for earlier interventions and improved treatment outcomes.
Because women with PAD tend to get later diagnoses, they also appear to develop more simultaneous chronic conditions (comorbidities). Also, according to new research, body fat and menopause can increase women’s PAD risk. Specifically, upper body fat seems to increase your post-menopause PAD risk. But lower body fat appears to have the opposite effect.
Additionally, post-menopausal women tend to develop calcium buildup in their breasts. The same is true of women with type II diabetes, high blood pressure and/or inflammation. That makes sense in many ways. Because, according to this study, that build-up increases women’s cardiovascular disease risk by 51%. This risk was for any kind of heart disease. But, their specific risk for peripheral arterial disease rose by 23%. As a result, we now view breast calcification as a marker for arterial disease. And women with one condition should be monitored for the other.
Even worse? Another new study reveals that osteoporosis increases your PAD risk by as much as 28%. And, because women start off life with lower bone density, and lose bone mass faster, they develop osteoporosis more often.
Even so, and regardless of body fat distribution, in patients with PAD and diabetes, male patients are more likely to face limb loss due to amputation.
Why is PAD so Dangerous?
Since your arteries are narrowed by PAD, and your blood isn’t flowing as it should, a blood clot can form on the surface of your plaque build-up, creating a potentially life-threatening situation if that clot travels to your lungs. It’s also possible for a piece of plaque to break off and completely cut off your blood flow, resulting in a heart attack or stroke.
But wait, there’s still more: because PAD affects blood flow to your limbs, if PAD goes untreated long enough, you may develop gangrene in one or more of your limbs (gangrene is the term for the death of body tissue due to lack of blood flow or serious infection.)[i] And if you develop gangrene, you will face partial or full limb amputation. Clearly, treating PAD is crucial to your long-term health.
How Can I Treat PAD?
We can easily diagnose PAD in our office, using a bedside test called an Ankle-Brachial Index (ABI). During this procedure, we use ultrasound and blood pressure cuffs to evaluate the circulation in your arms and legs. If your results aren’t what we want to see, we may order further imaging tests such as Magnetic Resonance Angiography (MRA) or Computed Tomography (CT) to determine the extent of your problem and to help us plan your treatment.
At Texas Endovascular Associates, we are passionate about treating patients who suffer from PAD. We use the most up-to-date, state-of-the-art equipment available to treat your disease. Recently, we learned of a new American Heart Association Scientific Statement published in the journal Circulation. It suggests that patients’ symptom experiences should guide treatment decisions.
Specifically, they suggest: “The person living with peripheral artery disease is the authority on the impact it has on their daily life. Our treatment must be grounded in their lived experiences and go beyond the clinical measures of how well blood flows through the arteries,. ”
To that end, we urge you to come in when your symptoms are mild to moderate. Because, in the early stages of disease, you can try to boost circulation to your feet. Moving more is a great way to boost blood flow to your feet. That’s why we share weekly exercise tips to help your circulation and vein health.
You can also change your diet to improve vein health and circulation. Be sure to avoid circulation-busting culprits like alcohol, caffeine and nicotine. (Or any other items your specialist says to steer clear of.) You could also score some pairs of compression socks, possibly even prescription ones. These now-stylish wardrobe staples really improve blood flow to your feet.
Specialized Care for PAD in Men and Women
Sometimes, though, these at-home efforts won’t be enough. And that’s when our vein specialists will discuss other treatment options. But don’t be scared.
Using minimally invasive procedures that do not require an overnight hospital stay, our team provides treatments such as Angioplasty, Stenting, and Atherectomy. In that way, we’re often able to spare you from more invasive, open surgeries. In fact, many of our PAD patients get discharged the same day as their procedure, facing minimal recovery time once they get home!
If you’re experiencing PAD symptoms, don’t wait for a consultation. We can even begin your treatment process via Telemedicine, although you will have to come to the office for a final diagnosis. And, if you’ve already been diagnosed with PAD, it is important that you not delay treatment. Doing so can allow your disease to progress, raising your risk of fatal complications.
Sources: Mayoclinic.org, MDmag.com[i] Mayoclinic.org. “Gangrene.”