Wrinkles. Vision Loss. Dementia. There are some things we don’t expect to combat until we’re older. You probably wouldn’t think to ask about Peripheral Artery Disease at your 35-year check-up - but maybe you should.
While this common vascular disease doesn’t typically show up on your patient questionnaire until your late 50s, it can occur much earlier. More young adults than ever are showing early signs of the condition - and they experience an alarmingly poor prognosis. To help you be proactive at your next physical, here’s what you need to know about premature Peripheral Artery Disease.
What is Premature Peripheral Arterial Disease?
Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) is caused by plaque buildup in the arteries that carry blood away from the heart. This sticky substance causes the arteries to narrow and restricts blood flow to the extremities, especially the legs and feet. If left untreated, the condition can lead to limited mobility, limb pain and weakness, and even early death.
PAD typically occurs later in life. When symptomatic PAD occurs in patients under the age of 50, it is known as Premature Peripheral Artery Disease. This early onset is rare - it occurs in less than one percent of the U.S. population, but it can also be extremely serious. Studies have shown that premature PAD is associated with a higher risk of rapid progression, limb loss, and death.
Signs of Premature Peripheral Artery Disease
PAD is easy to overlook, even in high-risk patients. The condition builds gradually and symptoms are often mild, causing many patients to go undiagnosed for several years. You may be suffering from Peripheral Artery Disease if you have:
Limb pain that lessens or disappears with rest (Intermittent Claudication)
Weakness or Numbness in the legs and/or feet
Limb sores that are slow to heal
Legs that are pale, blue-tinted, or cold to the touch
Poor growth of toenails or leg hair
Restlessness in the legs and feet, especially at night
Because PAD is uncommon in younger adults, it’s important to speak with your doctor if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms or are at increased risk of premature PAD.
Am I at risk of Premature Peripheral Artery Disease?
Although rare, premature PAD does occur under the right conditions. Those at risk of Premature Peripheral Artery Disease share many of the same risk factors as those in the condition’s typical onset range.
The most common risk factors include:
Family history of Vascular Disease
Obesity and Physical Inactivity
High Blood Pressure
High levels of Homocysteine, an amino acid that helps break down protein
Because PAD is uncommon in younger adults, it’s important to speak with a vascular specialist if you are at increased risk of premature PAD. A quick, non-invasive test known as an Ankle-Brachial Index (ABI) can provide a painless diagnosis by comparing the blood pressure levels in your hands and feet. If your ABI level is below 0.9, you may have a blocked artery that requires medical intervention.
How is Premature Peripheral Artery Disease Treated?
There are many treatment options available for patients with Peripheral Artery Disease. These can range from simple lifestyle changes such as smoking cessation and exercise to daily medications to control underlying conditions. In severe cases, surgical interventions may be necessary.
Because PAD is progressive, it is extremely important that the condition is managed as quickly as possible, especially in those with early onset. If you are at risk of Premature Peripheral Artery Disease, make an appointment with Vascular Associates of South Alabama. Our expert physicians and specialists will work with you in our state-of-the-art facility to develop a tailored treatment plan that manages your condition and extends your quality of life.