Clogged arteries can occur in any major blood vessel. While many of us think about the risk to our hearts (heart attack) or brains (stroke), we should be aware that our legs are at risk, too.
Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) caused by plaque buildup inside the arteries which carry blood to your legs, affects an estimated 8.5 million Americans. CLI is the most severe and deadly form of PAD, causing foot pain, ulcers, or wounds on the feet and toes, or dead tissue known as gangrene.
[CLI] is not a rare problem. Approximately two million Americans have it. And it’s on the rise due to the increase in type 2 diabetes and kidney disease.
- Dr. Srini Tummala, a vascular specialist with the University of Miami Health System.
He says that 40 percent of patients with CLI have a significant leg or foot amputation within six months and a mortality rate of 20 to 25 percent in the first year after diagnosis.
What are the symptoms of CLI?
Leg pain when you are walking or exercising that disappears when you are at rest is a common symptom of PAD. Other signs include skin discoloration, hair loss, numbness, tingling, cool temperature, foot pain, and ulcers or sores on legs or feet that don't heal.
If you have symptoms, you should seek a referral to a vascular specialist. Your treatment will depend on the location and severity of your blockages and your risk factors, says Dr. Tummala. Your doctor may prescribe an exercise program, medications, help you stop smoking, or recommend treatment such as angioplasty or stent placement.
”These procedures are outpatient, minimally invasive, performed with local anesthesia and light sedation medications, using a tiny nick in the skin the size of a pencil tip," he says. "Vascular interventional radiologists pioneered many of these outpatient nonsurgical treatments. Most patients have immediate improvement of their symptoms.”
Approximately 50 percent of CLI patients undergo some type of amputation, says Dr. Tummala. The main reason? They didn’t see an expert.
A vascular interventional physician who has expertise in nonsurgical treatments can identify your options early and minimize your risk of amputation.
Risk factors for plaque buildup that leads to PAD and CLI are the same as with artery blockages in other parts of your body. They include:
You may be at risk for PAD if you:
- Have diabetes mellitus, are 50 years of age, and have one or more of the risk factors above.
- Are 50 to 64 years old with one of the risk factors above or have a family history of PAD.
- Are over the age of 65.
- Have known plaque buildup in another part of your body, such as your heart or neck (carotid artery), or have a history of an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
Mary Jo Blackwood, RN, MPH, is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News. Based in St. Louis, MO, and Colorado, she has written medical articles and webpages for consumer publications and major university health centers.