September 18-22 is National Peripheral Arterial Disease Awareness Week
More than 8 million men and women -- one in 20 adults -- have peripheral arterial disease (P.A.D.), a largely unrecognized condition which puts them at risk for heart attack and stroke. The symptoms of P.A.D., such as fatigue, heaviness, pain and cramping in the leg muscles when walking that go away with rest, are often mistaken for signs of aging and ignored. More often, the disease is silent, causing no noticeable symptoms.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health, in partnership with the P.A.D. Coalition, are launching "Stay in Circulation: Take Steps to Learn About P.A.D.," a national campaign to raise awareness among those at risk. The campaign encourages men and women over age 50 to be alert to P.A.D. symptoms, to talk to their doctors about their risks, and to ask about a simple test called the ankle brachial index (ABI). The ABI test compares blood pressure measurements in the ankle with those in the arm. It can help detect reduced blood flow to the lower legs, a sign of P.A.D.
P.A.D. occurs when arteries, particularly in the lower legs, become clogged with fatty deposits that limit blood flow. Just like clogged arteries in the heart, having clogged arteries in the legs increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. Those at risk for PAD include people over 50, particularly African Americans, those who smoke or have a history of smoking, those with diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or those with a personal or family history of other vascular diseases, such as heart attack, or stroke.
"Symptoms of P.A.D. should not be mistaken for inevitable consequences of aging," said NHLBI Director Elizabeth G. Nabel, M.D. "Early detection and treatment of P.A.D. are important for staying in circulation and continuing to enjoy life to the fullest."
In addition to the symptoms that occur when walking, people with severe P.A.D. can experience pain in the feet or legs that disturbs sleep. However, most people with P.A.D. do not experience leg pain or any other noticeable symptoms.
"Quite often, P.A.D. is untreated until it is most severe, leaving people vulnerable to heart attack and stroke," said Alan Hirsch, M.D., chair of the P.A.D. Coalition, professor of epidemiology and community health at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health and director, vascular medicine program at the Minneapolis Heart Institute and Abbott Northwestern's Vascular Center. "Through this campaign, we are educating patients and supporting health care providers in evaluating and treating their patients."
Stay in Circulation: Take Steps to Learn About P.A.D. is sponsored by the NHLBI in partnership with the P.A.D. Coalition, an alliance of more than 40 leading health organizations, vascular health societies and government agencies united to raise public and health professional awareness about P.A.D.
The Stay in Circulation campaign, rolling out this fall, includes radio and print public service announcements in English and Spanish, brochures in English and Spanish, an educational video and a community tool kit to aid partners in spreading the word about P.A.D. on the local level. The P.A.D. Coalition is complementing this effort by providing clinical practice tools and educational resources for health care providers.
To interview an NHLBI spokesperson, please call (301) 496-4236.