While it’s always beneficial to think about heart health, February is American Heart Month, serving as a good reminder to broach cardiac-related topics. Heart disease and heart attacks are well-known in the United States. People are constantly exposed to the importance of heart health, which is heavily reliant on diet, physical activity and body weight. However, there are lesser known heart problems that are still very common. One of these conditions is peripheral artery disease. According to the National Institute of Health, one in 20 Americans over age 50 have peripheral artery disease, which increases risk of heart attack and stroke.
Peripheral artery disease defined
Peripheral artery disease refers to a circulatory issue in which blood flow to your extremities is reduced by narrowed arteries. If you have peripheral artery disease, your limbs — especially your legs — aren’t receiving an adequate supply of blood. This may indicate reduced blood flow to your heart and brain as well — likely the result of atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in your arteries).
The most common sign of peripheral artery disease is pain in your legs while walking. Other symptoms include:
■ Painful cramping in the hip, thigh or calf muscles
■ Numbness or weakness in the legs
■ Change in leg color
■ Sores on the toes, feet or legs that don’t heal easily
■ Lack of or diminished pulse in the feet or legs
■ Feeling cold in the lower foot or leg area
Most symptoms flare up during or after physical activity. In extreme cases, peripheral artery disease may cause symptoms during inactivity.
These factors increase your risk for developing peripheral artery disease:
■ Tobacco use
■ High blood pressure
■ High cholesterol
■ Older age (50 or over)
■ Family history
Prevention and treatment
In most cases, you can prevent peripheral artery disease with proper lifestyle choices. Eating healthy, participating in regular physical activity (150 minutes of moderate exercise each week) and managing your weight are simple yet effective steps you can take. Additionally, quitting smoking and discussing family history with your health care team will help you avoid peripheral artery disease.
If lifestyle changes aren’t enough, your health care team may prescribe — depending on your specific needs — cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, blood clot or symptom-relief medications. Or, you may need a form of surgery to reduce or eliminate artery blockage.
Lastly, be mindful of what types of cold medicine you use, as well as how much you’re using. Cold medicines that contain pseudoephedrine constrict blood vessels and can exacerbate peripheral artery disease symptoms.
Proper heart health is more than avoiding a heart attack. What you put in your body and what you do with your body is essential to cardiac well-being. And understanding what to watch for and how to prevent heart problems is a big piece of the puzzle. During February, and the other 11 months of the year, make an effort to help your heart.
If you have questions or concerns about heart health, contact your health care team.
Ripu Singh, M.D., is a Mayo Clinic Health System cardiologist.
For more information, visit www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org.
Health & Fitness coverage is supported by Mayo Clinic Health System, preserving the health and well-being of southern Minnesota communities.