Does Peripheral Artery Disease Mean That Coronary Problems Are Imminent?

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There are several apparent symptoms of coronary artery disease that virtually all of us understand and should not be ignored. Chief among them is angina or chest pain, often a warning sign of an impending heart attack – caused by the blockage of arteries that feed the heart. However, many patients experience a phenomenon known as peripheral artery disease, or PAD, a far less known condition that involves partial occlusion of the arteries in the extremities – the hands and the legs.

Peripheral artery disease comes in several stages, the first being relatively mild. Patients often don’t experience significant problems but may feel pain in their legs or arms during exercise. This is because as the blood flow to the extremities increases, the arteries can’t deliver enough blood (due to blockage), leading to an oxygen deficiency. In the later stages of PAD, more significant symptoms may occur. This can include cold, shiny skin, loss of hair in the extremity, pain in the extremities, even at rest, and more.

How This Relates to the Heart

There is a connection between the coronary and peripheral arteries. For one simple reason, peripheral arteries usually become diseased due to atherosclerosis or plaque buildup on their walls sooner than the coronary arteries. These arteries are narrower and become symptomatic with less arterial plaque buildup.

If the peripheral arteries are partly occluded and not delivering enough oxygen today, the likelihood is that the same will eventually happen to the coronary arteries in the future if something isn’t done to change that trajectory (improvements in diet and exercise, etc.). This is also true for men with erectile dysfunction, as ED is primarily a vascular condition – the arteries feeding the penis with blood are significantly smaller in diameter than even the peripheral arteries. Therefore, a small blockage can manifest in reduced erectile function.

Is a Heart Attack Imminent if I Have PAD or ED?

The likelihood is no; a heart attack is probably not imminent due to either of these conditions unless they have been steadily worsening for a long time. However, both should be evaluated by your cardiologist. This is a great time to have a heart health screening, especially if you haven’t been to your cardiologist recently. We will take this time to assess your risk and figure out the best screening program for you in the future.

Can PAD Be Reversed?

PAD is a chronic and often progressive condition that cannot be reversed naturally and without procedural intervention. For patients with PAD that interferes with daily life, we can often improve blood flow to the extremities using balloon technology that compresses the arterial plaque against the blood vessel walls to increase the usable diameter of the artery. This can be very effective for immediate relief, but to maintain proper blood flow, patients need to take advantage of this wake-up call and improve their diet by reducing saturated fats. Similarly, bumping up hydration can go a long way in improving the viscosity of the blood, allowing it to flow more efficiently throughout the body. Lastly, a comprehensive exercise routine consisting of cardio and strength training must be started to improve overall heart health.

The Bottom Line

If you are experiencing the symptoms of PAD, particularly pain or numbness in the legs after exercise or even at rest, it’s essential that you visit one of our cardiologists to understand whether to get treatment and whether you may be at higher risk for coronary heart disease.

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