That pain could mean you have Peripheral Arterial Disease (P.A.D.)
Could you or a loved one have peripheral arterial disease (P.A.D.)? P.A.D. is a problem with blood flow in the arteries—usually the legs. The condition affects an estimated 8 million to 12 million Americans, many of whom may not be aware of the disease or how to treat it.
About four years ago, Rita Smith's right leg and calf muscle started to hurt. "It felt like shin splints, and it got worse," she says. "I dealt with it on my own for about a month, thinking it was from exercise."
But then it got even more severe. "It was crippling pain; it felt like a vise around my leg. I couldn't even walk to my mailbox," she says. Smith, who lives in Lorton, Va., had seen her doctor about it originally, but now went back in tears. It wasn't getting better.
That's when a radiologist found she had a clogged artery just below her right knee. As a result, blood was not flowing through her leg properly. A balloon angioplasty operation to open up the artery collapsed within two weeks, and the pain came back. At that point, Smith's vascular surgeon started her on two drugs—one to prevent clots, the other to increase blood flow, and both to ease the pain.
Smith's surgeon also suggested that she look into a clinical trial being conducted at the NIH on P.A.D. Clinical trials help medical researchers try new treatments and find new cures for many different conditions. Smith was accepted into the clinical trial at the NIH, and today feels that what she experienced and what she—and her doctors—learned has helped her deal with P.A.D. (For more information on clinical trials, see pages 4 and 5 in this issue.)
"I'm doing so well today because of NIH," she says. Now, at age 59, Smith is able to take part in exercise and yoga classes and has returned to teaching.
- Peripheral arterial disease (P.A.D.) occurs when a fatty material called plaque (pronounced plak) builds up on the inside walls of the arteries that carry blood from the heart to the head, internal organs, and limbs.
- One in every 20 Americans over the age of 50 has P.A.D.
- Signs of PAD include: pain, numbness, aching, and heaviness in the muscles; weak or absent pulse in the legs or feet; sores or wounds on toes, feet, or legs that heal slowly, poorly, or not at all; color changes in skin, paleness, or blueness.