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Dr. Jack Oak, St. Luke's Hospital

Women need to be aware of peripheral artery disease

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is the narrowing and hardening of arteries in the legs due to fatty deposit build-up. When leg arteries are hardened and clogged, blood flow to the legs and feet is reduced, resulting in poor circulation. PAD may also cause pain which could lead to a less active lifestyle and amputation of a limb. While PAD usually occurs in the legs, it can also affect other arteries, including those that connect to the aorta, brain, arms, kidneys and stomach.

According to the Peripheral Arterial Disease Coalition, three out of four women are not familiar with PAD. In addition, women are much more likely to be aware of other cardiovascular diseases such as stroke, coronary artery disease and heart failure, although the risk for PAD is the same or higher than these conditions.

Risk factors for PAD include high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, high cholesterol or a family history of vascular problems. Many women who report they are aware of PAD do not know that cigarette smoking and diabetes can lead to it, and more than half of those familiar with PAD do not know that high blood pressure and high cholesterol are risk factors for it. Among women who are aware of PAD, only about one in four know that the condition is associated with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

One out of three people with PAD experience the following late-warning signs: fatigue, pain in the legs that occurs with walking and goes away with rest, pain in the thighs or buttocks that also occurs with walking and subsides when at rest, foot or toe pain that often disturbs sleep, slow-to-heal wounds on the feet and changes in color or temperature of the lower extremities.

When these symptoms occur, referral to a vascular surgeon is critical. Vascular surgeons offer a full range of treatment options, from open-operative procedures to the latest minimally-invasive techniques, such as catheters, angioplasty balloons and stents.

In most cases, PAD can be measured accurately through non-invasive tests using an ultrasound scan. Testing can be performed in minutes without risk or discomfort.

Dr. Jack Oak is a board-certified vascular surgeon at St. Luke's Hospital. Call 314-205-6788 or visit his Physician Referral page.

This article was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on September 9, 2010.

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St. Luke's Hospital - 232 South Woods Mill Road - Chesterfield, MO 63017 Main Number: 314-434-1500 Emergency Dept: 314-205-6990 Patient Billing: 888-924-9200
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