Millions of women have arterial disease — do you?

By Shayna Brouker • Published: May 3rd, 2012
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

What affects millions of women, causes nearly as many deaths and incurs almost as much health care cost as heart disease and stroke?

The answer is peripheral arterial disease, but if you’ve never heard of P-A-D you’re not alone. The American Heart Association reports that between 4 and 5 million women have P-A-D but don’t know it — and worse, even fewer seek treatment. The condition occurs when arteries that supply blood to the extremities become clogged with fat and narrow, limiting blood flow. It usually affects the legs and pelvis and can sometimes lead to amputation.

What many women don’t realize is damage to these arteries can be as serious as damage to arteries leading to the heart and brain. And women with this condition are two to three times more likely to have a stroke or heart attack than women without it, especially if they are 50 or older. It’s important to pay attention to the disease because it’s also evidence that atherosclerosis (a-thuh-ro-skluh-ro-sus) is occurring throughout the body.

The danger with P-A-D is that many people don’t experience symptoms. But when they do, they suffer leg pain and cramping when walking or exercising. Maybe it makes you walk less, or you’ve had a pesky sore on your foot that just won’t heal. Other suspicious signs include legs that are cooler than arms or shiny skin and loss of hair on your leg. Some risk factors that might increase your chance of developing this disease include diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, smoking and having a sedentary lifestyle.

If you think you might have peripheral arterial disease, don’t wait to get treatment because women tend to suffer a rapid decline in function. Drug therapy, surgery to restore blood flow and exercise can help. If any of the symptoms sound familiar, better check with your doctor. Be in the know and make a step toward healthier legs.