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Health Watch: Peripheral Arterial Disease


July 1, 2007

If you ever have sudden cramping in your leg when exercising, it could be more than a charlie horse. Eight to 12 million Americans suffer from Peripheral Arterial Disease or PAD. It can lead to amputation, heart attack or stroke.

For years, Rita and her dogs walked a mile a day around her neighborhood. Then four years ago, at the age of 54, she was sidelined with pain.

"I was walking and I felt like I couldn't walk anymore, it felt like a vice would just come up and grab onto my leg. I was powerless to do anything the pain was so bad I'd have to stop walking," said Rita Smith.

She was diagnosed with something called Peripheral Arterial Disease or PAD.

"PAD are blockages that occur in the arteries of your leg and prevents blood from traveling down your leg to your toes," said Dr. Elizabeth Nabel of the National Health Institute.

Much like a blockage in your heart, a blockage in your leg can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke or even amputation.

"If you don't treat PAD you could likely lose all circulation in your leg and it might lead to the amputation of a foot," said Dr. Nabel.

Smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol all increase the risk of PAD, as does being African American.

PAD can be diagnosed in a doctors office by comparing the blood pressure in your arms and legs, and can be treated with medicine and even surgery if necessary.

The National Institutes of Health says that one in 20 Americans over the age of 50 suffers from PAD. If you would like more information visit www.aboutpad.org.


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