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Dr. Jack Oak, St. Luke's Hospital

Artery disease called PAD affects more women than men

Did you know approximately one in every 20 Americans over the age of 50 has peripheral artery disease - or PAD? According to a newly-released report from the American Heart Association that is endorsed by the Vascular Disease Foundation and its Peripheral Artery Disease Coalition, even though PAD affects more women than men, most women are unaware of this potentially fatal condition.

PAD is the narrowing and hardening of arteries in the legs due to fatty deposit build-up known as atherosclerosis. This is a system-wide disease process, and it can affect the vital organs in your body, such as the heart, brain, kidneys and digestive system. When it occurs in the legs, it can lead to poor circulation, which may cause pain in the legs while walking and could lead to a less active lifestyle. Studies suggest that women experience atypical symptoms associated with PAD, including any pain in the legs or heels while resting or during exercise.

PAD is strongly associated with smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol levels. For most people, PAD will not lead to an amputation, although women are at higher risk for amputation as a result of PAD versus men. The disease can be managed with good life choices, such as smoking cessation and good control of blood pressure and cholesterol levels. People with PAD, however, are at higher risk for heart attacks and strokes since atherosclerosis affects every blood vessel in the body.

When PAD becomes so advanced that people begin to have pain in the legs and feet while at rest or have cuts or sores on their feet that do not heal, then the risk of amputation becomes higher. When these symptoms occur, referral to a vascular surgeon is critical. Vascular surgeons can offer a full range of treatment options, from open-operative procedures to the latest minimally-invasive techniques using catheters, angioplasty balloons and stents to help increase circulation to the limbs and help prevent an amputation.

In most cases, PAD can be accurately measured by 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. To register for a free PAD screening during September 2012, call 314-205-6074 or visit the event page for more information.

This article was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on August 23, 2012.