An otherwise healthy 57-year-old man figured he just needed some back-strengthening exercises. But despite the workouts, his leg pain got worse, making it hard for him even to walk. His trainer suspected something else was wrong and advised him to see his doctor. The doctor’s tests revealed the true cause: blockages in the blood vessels of his legs. In fact, the arteries going to his lower extremities were nearly 100 percent blocked. The cause? Years of heavy smoking and high-fat meals, besides other factors that caused cholesterol, scar tissue and blood clots to build up inside his blood vessels.
Most people think that clogged arteries, only happens in the heart. But it can happen throughout the body. It’s called “peripheral arterial disease” or PAD. PAD causes leg pains that are early warnings of high risk for a heart attack or a stroke.
Nearly a quarter of people who have leg pain due to PAD will be dead in five years, mostly due to heart attacks and other heart problems. For people whose leg pain kept them from walking even short distances, the odds are even worse: as many as half will die by five years. A bypass operation to open blocked leg arteries can correct the problem; but, as always, prevention is the best cure.
Nearly one person in five, nearly 30 million people in the United States, have some form of PAD, though the vast majority may not cause symptoms. Quitting smoking and changing eating habits is the key. The old saying, “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” applies to heath as well. Among people over age 70, nearly one person in five has PAD.