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Therapy for Peripheral Artery Disease

by Wanda Lockwood
  • Overview

    Peripheral artery disease occurs when arteries become occluded (blocked), usually because of fatty plaques (atherosclerosis) inside the arteries, especially involving the legs and feet. Peripheral artery disease causes severe pain when your muscles do not receive enough oxygen (ischemia). The pain may increase with walking (intermittent claudication), but over time, pain may be constant, even when you are at rest. Skin changes that indicate peripheral artery disease include loss of hair on the feet and legs, shiny skin, pallor or blue-purplish discoloration of the feet and lower legs, and ulcerations (open sores), especially on the feet.
    Peripheral artery disease
  • Lifestyle Changes

    According to Vascular Web and the Mayo Clinic, you must make lifestyle changes to prevent further damage from impaired circulation--beginning with careful daily monitoring of the skin on your legs and feet to check for cuts or sores that may not heal properly, and using lotions and creams to keep your skin soft. Avoid wearing tight shoes, socks or other constrictive clothing, and never go barefoot. Cold weather causes your vessels to constrict (narrow), so wear warm socks and clothes and avoid becoming chilled. Both overweight and high cholesterol may worsen peripheral artery disease, so eat a low-fat diet and try to maintain a normal weight. If you are diabetic, fluctuations in your glucose (sugar) level can further damage your arteries, so you must monitor and treat your disease. Tobacco is a major cause of peripheral artery disease because it markedly constricts arteries, so stop smoking completely. A slow, graduated program of exercise (walking) can increase circulation, reducing pain.
  • Medications

    According to the Mayo Clinic, a variety of medications are used to treat peripheral artery disease. Some (like aspirin and Plavix) prevent clot formation or thin the blood (anticoagulants), while others like Pietal dilate (enlarge) the vessels to reduce pain. Some medications, like Zocor, prevent atherosclerosis from worsening. Analgesia (pain medication) may be especially important because pain prevents exercise and causes vessels to constrict, worsening your disease; however, peripheral artery disease is chronic, so use non-narcotic medications. Some people report that alternative medicines, such as gingko biloba, relieve pain.
  • Surgery

    Peripheral artery disease puts you at risk for amputation, so according to Vascular Web, you may require surgery to improve circulation. Surgery can include bypass grafts in which a section of a vein is removed and grafted onto an occluded artery to bypass the blocked area. Synthetic grafting material is available, but is less successful. If only one area of an artery is occluded, angioplasty (a minimally invasive procedure done through a plastic catheter, rather than an incision) can be effective at removing blockage via the placement of stents (very small metal mesh tubes) to keep the artery open. Another choice is endarterectomy, in which the artery is surgically opened and cleared of blockage. Severe cases may require the amputation of all or a part of the limb.

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