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Causes of Peripheral Artery Disease

By: Jo Johnson - Updated: 27 Feb 2013 | comments*Discuss
Peripheral Artery Disease Arteries

It is thought that around 5% of the retired population suffer with some degree of peripheral arterial disease. This occurs when the arteries, usually in the legs, become narrowed or blocked because of a build-up of deposits.

What Causes Peripheral Artery Disease?

The arteries affected become blocked or narrowed because of an accumulation of fatty deposits, otherwise known as plaques or atheromas, within the artery. The build-up develops over time and begins as a very small area of plaque which can continue to enlarge until the artery becomes obstructed.These accumulations occur as a result of many lifestyle factors. Smoking, diet, cholesterol and lack of exercise can all contribute to the plaques forming and causing the arterial disease. Other factor that can cause the disease are having a strong family history, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Signs and Symptoms

The most common symptom seen in patients with peripheral artery disease is pain in the legs, especially when walking.As the muscles work when the body is mobilised, the demand for oxygen to the tissues becomes greater. If the artery is obstructed by plaques however, the demand cannot be fully met as the blood supply cannot travel through the blood vessels to cope with the task. The tissues then become oxygen depleted and pain occurs. The pain will worsen if the movements become more strenuous and decreases when at rest. As the disease progresses the lower legs may become increasingly short of an adequate blood supply and may become numb or tingle. The toes can appear dusky or blue and the presence of a pulse in the lower areas may disappear.The condition of the skin and toenails may suffer as the amount of oxygen to these areas drops.

Treatment Options

If a doctor has diagnosed peripheral arterial disease, prescribed drugs can help prevent the condition from deteriorating. Medicines that lower cholesterol are likely, as is a blood thinning agent like aspirin which will help to prevent blood clots from forming, a serious side-effect of the condition. It is extremely important to discover the cause of the disease and address these issues also. Diabetes management may need revising, and blood pressure issues may need investigating.In a small number of cases, surgery may be an option if the disease is extremely advanced. The types of surgery available include by-pass grafting of the diseased vessel, angioplasty or in very bad circumstances, amputation of the affected limb, though this is only necessary if the tissues of the limb have become so badly oxygen depleted that tissues have started to die.

Preventing Peripheral Artery Disease

Many instances of this condition could be prevented by making some basic but fundamental lifestyle choices. Stopping smoking, taking regular exercise and enjoying a healthy diet are the biggest ways to prevent the disease.Ensuring that other medical conditions are diagnosed and treated early is also a good way to try and prevent plaques from developing.

Peripheral arterial disease can be a potentially life or limb threatening condition and needs early treatment to ensure the best prognosis. As with many illness, prevention is better than cure and we can all take some of the responsibility for preventing these diseases from occurring.

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