Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

A Silent Killer: What you need to know about Peripheral Arterial Disease.

It may not be as well known as heart disease, but Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD)—the narrowing of peripheral arteries that lead to the legs, arms, stomach and head—can be a very serious condition.

The narrowing occurs because of a build up of plaque within the arteries, which reduces blood flow. This disease is most commonly found in the legs and, if left untreated, can lead to ischemic rest pain, ulcers, gangrene and, ultimately, amputations. Patients with PAD are also at increased risk of having coronary artery disease and carotid artery stenosis, which can lead to heart attack or stroke. Symptoms of PAD include:
• Pain when walking
• Increased fatigue and tiredness
• Increased cramping in lower extremities
• Decreased desire to walk or exercise due to pain
Unfortunately, in its early stages, carotid artery disease and abdominal aortic aneurysms often do not produce any signs or symptoms. These conditions may go unnoticed until they are serious or possibly even deadly. That’s why vascular screenings, which don’t required needles or invasive testing, are a good idea for those who are at risk.

What increases risk for PAD?
Lifestyle choices and other conditions can increase your risk for PAD. These include:
• Smoking
• Diabetes
• High blood pressure
• Increasing age
• Family history of heart disease or stroke
• High cholesterol
• Obesity
These factors significantly increase the risk for PAD and should be regularly tested and monitored.

What screenings can detect PAD?
Highly trained technicians use the same type of ultrasound used for sonograms during pregnancy to examine carotid arteries, abdominal aorta and peripheral arteries in your ankles. PinnacleHealth CardioVascular Institute offers free vascular screenings to individuals who qualify. If you do not qualify, we offer a reduced-price screening program in our Wormleysburg office.

How is PAD treated?
Some people can manage PAD with simple lifestyle changes. By eating a healthy, balanced diet and exercising regularly, PAD may become more manageable. Medications may be prescribed to:
• Lower cholesterol
• Lower blood pressure
• Control blood sugar
• Prevent blood clots
• Relieve symptoms
In some more severe cases, vascular specialists may recommend treatment. Fortunately, vascular procedures have become much less invasive than in the past.

Want to know more?
At free community seminars, you can hear from vascular specialists about medications, lifestyle choices and treatments to prevent or manage PAD. Visit to find a program near you. Take our quiz online at or call 717-782-5169 to see if you qualify for a vascular screening.

Dr. Daniel Calderon specializes in vascular surgery for UPMC Pinnacle.

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