One of the most devastating outcomes of uncontrolled diabetes is foot amputation. Most non-traumatic limb loss is caused by peripheral artery disease (PAD), a condition where the blood vessels in the legs become narrowed, leading to decreased blood flow to the legs and feet. With early intervention, however, people with PAD can avoid losing a limb.
What Is Peripheral Artery Disease?
Peripheral artery disease is caused by poor blood circulation in the lower extremities. Plaque buildup is often the cause of poor circulation. Excess calcium and cholesterol in the bloodstream will restrict blood flow through the arteries. When blood flow is reduced to the lower legs and feet, so are oxygen and other nutrients, leading to muscle and tissue loss. When a patient has poor blood circulation, they might experience pain, muscle cramps, weakness, and stiffness.
Other symptoms of PAD include numbness, skin discoloration, slower nail and hair growth, and erectile dysfunction in men. In advanced cases of PAD, the pain may be completely debilitating.
Who Is at Risk for PAD?
Peripheral artery disease is more likely to occur in people who are smokers and who are overweight, have diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol. A family history of PAD or related conditions can also play a role.
Diabetes and smoking are the greatest risk factors for developing PAD, but advanced age can also be a factor. If you are at risk of developing PAD, certain lifestyle changes can reduce your risk of experiencing a heart attack, stroke, or loss of a foot or leg.
Treatment and Prevention of Peripheral Artery Disease
If you are in a high-risk category for PAD, your doctor will recommend certain lifestyle changes, including the following:
- Quit smoking. This will increase the amount of oxygen in your bloodstream.
- Exercise and reduce the saturated fats in your diet. Exercise can make a difference in improving blood circulation in the feet.
- Control your blood sugar. People with uncontrolled diabetes are at the highest risk of PAD and limb loss.
Your doctor may also recommend a prescription medication to improve blood circulation. The most commonly used medications for PAD are called statins and work by blocking the enzymes in your body that produce cholesterol.
How We Test for Peripheral Artery Disease in Our Clinics
We test for PAD using Doppler ultrasound right in our office. Doppler ultrasound is a non-invasive diagnostic test. The Doppler test uses sound waves to evaluate blood flow in the arteries and veins in the legs. Typically, a patient undergoing a Doppler ultrasound test for PAD will go through the following steps:
- The patient will lie down on a table with their legs uncrossed and exposed from the hip down.
- A gel will be applied to the skin on the legs where the ultrasound probe will be placed. The gel helps to conduct sound waves through the skin and into the blood vessels.
- The ultrasound probe, which emits high-frequency sound waves, will be moved over the skin on the legs. The sound waves bounce off the blood cells in the vessels and create a picture of the blood flow on a screen.
- The technician will measure the blood pressure in the legs at various points using a blood pressure cuff and a handheld Doppler probe. This allows them to check for any differences in blood pressure between the arms and legs, which could indicate PAD.
- The technician may ask the patient to walk on a treadmill or use a stationary bike while they perform the ultrasound to evaluate blood flow during exercise.
The Doppler ultrasound test is a painless and non-invasive procedure that provides valuable information about the blood flow in the legs.