Cardiovascular Disease

By Karin Schwan, RN, MSN, NP-C, CDE
Director of Nursing at UH Samaritan Medical Center

One specific type of vascular disease that warrants some increased awareness is peripheral arterial disease (PAD), also known as peripheral vascular disease (PVD). It is a very common condition that can happen to anyone, regardless of age, but it is more common in those over age 50.

One particular telling sign of PAD is called claudication, this is leg pain that occurs when walking or exercising and disappears when the person stops the activity. Other symptoms include numbness and tingling in the lower legs and feet, coldness in the lower legs or feet, and ulcers or sores on the legs or feet that don’t heal. Some people chalk-up this leg pain as a normal part of aging rather than telling their doctor, but it is important to report these symptoms in order for the physician to assess for PAD.

PAD usually develops as a result of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, which occurs when cholesterol and scar tissue build up to form plaque that narrows and clogs the arteries so that blood flow to the legs is decreased. This can result in pain when walking, and eventually gangrene and amputation.

Atherosclerosis is a systemic disease, which means that people with PAD are likely to have blocked arteries in other areas of the body too. They are at risk for heart disease, aortic aneurysms and stroke. PAD is also a marker for diabetes, hypertension, and other conditions.

PAD affects 10 million Americans and the risk factors are those common to other cardiovascular issues: smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, family history of heart or vascular disease, being overweight, lack of exercise or physical activity, and being over the age of 50.