Senior Circulation and Peripheral Artery Disease

Senior Circulation and Peripheral Artery Disease

There’s no doubt that walking is great for your health. It serves as a wonderful exercise that you can do almost anywhere. There are no worries about equipment or making it to the gym. You simply slip on some comfortable walking shoes and off you go! And besides that, it’s a great way to boost your mental health. Whether it’s out in the fresh air or on a treadmill while binge watching your favorite show, walking gets the blood pumping.

But when you take a walk, do your legs begin to hurt? Some seniors experience pain as they walk or exercise their legs, and that pain goes away when they rest. But the next time they go on a walk out to the park, the pain is back again.

That’s something to pay attention to. Feeling aches and pains in your legs once in a while is perfectly normal no matter your age, but if it’s happening with some frequency, it’s time to take notice. While there could be many reasons for pain, aching, or a feeling of heaviness in your legs as you walk, one of them could have a direct connection to your heart.

Peripheral arterial disease, sometimes known as peripheral artery disease or PAD for short, occurs when the blood vessels that carry blood from the heart to your legs become narrow or blocked. While symptoms usually show up in the legs, they can also occur in the arms. It’s often caused by atherosclerosis, or a buildup of fatty deposits in the arteries. This narrows the vessels and reduces blood flow. The result can be a variety of symptoms, but pain in the legs is the most likely.1

That may sound pretty dangerous – and it might be, if you don’t talk to your doctor. Fortunately, there are many good treatments for PAD.

And if you have it, you’re certainly not alone. Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association, reports that about 6.5 million people aged 40 and older have the condition.2

Peripheral arterial disease can be sneaky. It can be easy to write off leg pain during exercise as simple overexertion. And interestingly, for 40% of those who have it, there is no leg pain at all.3 That’s another good reason to see your doctor regularly, take all medications as prescribed, and look into a medical alert necklace. This senior life-saving alert system gives you the opportunity to simply press a button if you suffer an emergency, accident, fall, or otherwise need help.

If you opt for a medical alert system fall alert button, be sure to always keep it on, even in the shower; the device is water-resistant.

Why are Seniors at Risk for PAD?

PAD can occur anywhere in the body, but it’s most common in the legs. And it’s much more common in the elderly, with those over the age of 80 more than twice as likely to develop it. According to the CDC, you’re at higher risk for PAD if you:

·        Smoke

·        Have high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, or atherosclerosis

·        Are over the age of 60

·        Are of African-American or Hispanic descent

If you have these risk factors, you are more likely to develop peripheral artery disease. And if you have PAD, you are more likely to develop coronary artery disease or cerebrovascular disease, which can eventually lead to a heart attack or stroke. An emergency button alert is a great choice for anyone with these risk factors.

How Can Seniors Spot the Symptoms?

The majority of those who suffer from PAD will experience leg pain as the first sign. This pain happens when you are exercising in some way, often when walking, and eases when you rest. Putting your legs up and relaxing can quickly diminish the pain, which can trick you into thinking there’s nothing to worry about. When you do have issues while walking, it will feel like aches, pain, or cramps that show up in your hip, thigh, calf, or buttocks.4

What if you are among the 40% of seniors who don’t feel any sort of leg pain from PAD? There are other signs, some of which might surprise you. Look at your legs for these symptoms:

·        Muscle atrophy or weakness in your leg

·        Skin that is cool to the touch, as well as cold or numb toes

·        Trouble feeling the pulse in your feet or being unable to find it at all

·        Wounds on the legs and feet that have trouble healing

·        Smooth, shiny skin on the legs – some areas might become hairless

If you notice any of these symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor. All of them can mean decreased blood flow through your legs. Not only does that lead to serious problems for the muscles and other tissues in your legs, it’s also a sign that blood flow in the other parts of your body could be compromised as well. And nothing good happens with decreased blood flow.

Get Checked

Never write off the symptoms of PAD as something that “just happens” with old age. As with many other conditions, writing off something as a normal and natural part of aging can be a deadly decision.

Tell your doctor about all your symptoms and follow all treatment as directed. If you have PAD, it’s a very good idea to wear a medical alarm pendant or wristband.

Your doctor can diagnose PAD through non-invasive means. You might have an MRI, CT scan, ultrasound, or angiography. These are straightforward imaging tests that will look at the vessels and arteries in your body. Another test is called the ankle brachial index, or ABI. This measures the blood pressure in your ankles, as well as the blood pressure in the arms, and compares the two. The ABI is measured during rest and after exercise to get a better idea of whether you have peripheral artery disease.

Can Seniors Prevent PAD?

Physical activity can help prevent PAD or can improve the symptoms, so talk to your doctor about an appropriate exercise program.

Keep chronic conditions under control, especially high cholesterol. High cholesterol for a prolonged period of time can lead to atherosclerosis, which is a leading cause of blood flow issues throughout the body. Control your blood pressure and diabetes, if you have either condition.

If you smoke, now is the time to stop. The American Heart Association points out that smoking not only increases the risk of PAD, but if you already have it, smoking can make the symptoms much worse.5 And the Cleveland Clinic notes a very clear connection between PAD and smoking:

·        Eight out of 10 patients who have PAD are current smokers or used to smoke

·        PAD symptoms show up almost 10 years earlier in those who smoke

·        Those who smoke are at a 400% increased risk of developing PAD6

If you are diagnosed with PAD, don’t panic! There are effective treatments that can alleviate the symptoms and give you less worry about more serious consequences. Treatments for the condition can include:

·        Taking aspirin or blood thinners to prevent complications from atherosclerosis.

·        Taking medications to reduce your cholesterol and keep blood pressure under control.

·        Quit smoking. This makes every system in your body healthier.

·        A supervised exercise program can help improve blood flow and function of the legs, reduce the symptoms, and lead to better quality of life.

·        Surgery to bypass any blocked arteries might be required with severe PAD.

When You Need Immediate Help

As the blood vessels in your body narrow, you can suffer a wide variety of problems, including cardiovascular problems. Often this comes on fast and with no warning at all, such as the immediate emergency of a heart attack or stroke. But other emergencies can occur with PAD. If you find you can’t move one of your feet, your feet become numb, or the skin color of one foot changes and becomes very different than the other, you could be suffering a blockage of the blood flow.

In that case, get help right away. Restricted blood flow is a medical emergency, and prompt treatment can make a world of difference. An emergency alarm for seniors from Alert1 can provide the peace of mind you need. If you experience any sort of problem, you can press the button alert to get help right away, 24/7.

Are you feeling any of the symptoms of PAD? Take the time right now to make an appointment with your doctor to get checked out. Being proactive about senior whole health can ensure a longer, healthier life.