Keep Your Blood Flowing Cardiologists Share Their Secrets for Tackling Peripheral Arterial Disease

Expert Advice from Cardiologists on Managing Peripheral Arterial Disease

man walking dog

Can you walk more? That may be the last question that you want to hear when you have a blood vessel condition called peripheral arterial disease, or PAD. Even walking short distances, as you likely know, may cause your legs to cramp up.

But fear not, my friend! The wise doctors say that if you push yourself to move more often and walk farther, you will actually feel better. It’s like exercise is a magical elixir that brings relief. John Osborne, MD, PhD, a cardiologist in Dallas, goes even further to say that including supervised rehab therapy will give you the best results – and the pain will be worth the gain.

Rehab focuses on “continuing to push your walking up until it hurts,” he says. “But, if you continue to do that, it will actually tend to help build in additional collateral [blood] vessels or bridging vessels around the blocked vessels.” It’s like opening up new escape routes for the blood flow, creating a highway of goodness in your body.

Now, let’s talk about what exactly PAD is. It’s like having a plaque party in your peripheral arteries. Those arteries are responsible for carrying blood away from your heart to other areas of your body, such as your arms and legs. But when plaque builds up, it’s like throwing a barricade in the middle of a highway, causing traffic jams and bringing your legs to a standstill.

The most common form of PAD affects your legs and feet. But don’t fret, my friend, because if you have symptoms, you’re not alone. About 1 in 4 people with PAD don’t even realize they have it. But for those who do, they may experience muscle pain or weakness when they walk or try to exercise. It’s like your legs are saying, “Nah, I’m just gonna take a quick nap here.”

But fear not, for there are steps you can take to boost how you feel with PAD. And no, I’m not talking about dance steps or fancy gymnastics. Cardiologists say that treating high blood pressure, managing high cholesterol, improving your diet, and bidding farewell to your tobacco habit will help protect those smaller vessels in your arms or legs. It’s like building a fortress around your precious blood vessels, shielding them from harm.

Here are the top tips from the experts:

Limit Your Risk Factors

You might be wondering why I bring up tobacco so often. Well, my friend, nicotine encourages plaque to form in your blood vessels. So quitting tobacco is a great start. The American Heart Association even offers tips on how to quit, starting with setting a “Quit Day” (ideally one within the next 7 days) when you’ll stop using tobacco entirely.

Keeping your blood pressure in check is also essential. You can do this by exercising, lowering stress, and making other lifestyle changes. But if that’s not enough, your doctor can prescribe medication. It’s like having a superhero team to protect your blood vessels from evil forces.

If you have diabetes, pay close attention to your blood sugar levels. And keep your cholesterol within the healthy range, whether through diet changes or medication. It’s like maintaining a well-balanced ecosystem in your body, where everything works in harmony.

Push Your Activity

Okay, I know walking can sometimes feel like a herculean task when you have PAD. But here’s the good news: if you exercise under someone’s supervision, like a physical therapist, you’ll be more likely to push yourself. And as your pain eases up, you can exercise even more. It’s like having a personal cheerleader on your journey to healthier legs.

And guess what? Medicare covers this approach called supervised exercise therapy. So why not take advantage of it? Evidence shows that it works better to slow down the worsening of PAD compared to trying to pump up exercise on your own. It’s like having a fitness coach who knows all the right moves for your legs.

Your Medication Options

If you’re already taking medications to treat risk factors like high blood pressure, that’s great! Your doctor might also prescribe other drugs to lower your risk of getting a clot. One such option is aspirin. But guess what? The FDA recently approved another medication, rivaroxaban (Xarelto), specifically for people with PAD. Together with aspirin, these two drugs are like a dynamic duo fighting against heart attacks and strokes.

Monitor and Advocate for Your Health

Don’t forget to keep an eye on your medication and any changes in the areas affected by PAD. Take good care of your feet, keep your toenails trimmed, and check for any signs of skin damage. Because even a tiny rock in your shoe or a toenail problem can lead to big trouble when you have PAD. With less blood flow, your body has more trouble fighting infection, and before you know it, you might need amputation. It’s like a tiny annoyance turning into a major catastrophe.

Remember, my friend, you have a voice. Advocate for yourself to get the best care possible. And don’t forget what Sahil Parikh, MD, wisely said, “PAD is an important life-altering diagnosis. Not just because of the legs, but because of its implications for the rest of the body.” But with the right treatment and a walking program, you’ll feel much better and be better off for it.

So go forth, my friend, and embrace the power of movement. Let your legs dance, your calves flex, and your thighs strut their stuff. And always remember, walking may seem challenging now, but with each step, you’re building a better and healthier future for yourself.