You hear a lot about lifestyle changes in the news, such as the best foods to eat and the right amount of exercise to get. You may wonder: Is there really a payoff for me? For some health problems -- such as peripheral artery disease, or PAD -- simple changes in lifestyle can make a big difference.
With PAD, plaque builds up in your arteries, the vessels that carry blood from your heart. Plaque is a mix of cholesterol, fat, calcium, and other substances. PAD most often happens in your legs, but you can also have blockages in the arteries that go to your arms, head, stomach, and kidneys.
It can lead to heart attack or stroke, but you can keep it in check with your doctor’s help.
The main treatments for PAD are lifestyle changes, medicine, and surgery
With different choices in your day-to-day life, you can do a lot to make sure your PAD doesn’t get any worse. You may even be able to reverse the symptoms and avoid surgery if you:
- Quit smoking
- Get more exercise
- Eat a healthy diet
- Take care of your feet
- Manage your other health problems, such as diabetes and high blood pressure
It’s best to skip compression socks. They don’t help with PAD and can actually cause more harm. If you already wear them to prevent swelling or blood clots, check with your doctor to see whether they’re still a good idea.
When you stop, you take a very important step in controlling your condition. Smoking can make your symptoms worse, and it raises your chances of a heart attack or stroke.
If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor to find a program that’s right for you
Because of your pain, you may be cutting back on your activity. But regular walks and other exercise are a key part of treatment.
Your doctor knows moving around isn’t easy when you have this condition. She can help you ease into a routine and work up to the amount of activity you need. You may have to start slow and take breaks, but you’ll likely take longer walks much sooner than you’d expect.
Your doctor may also offer you a medicine that helps get more blood to your legs and lowers your pain. This might make exercise easier.
It’s more important than ever to keep your weight and cholesterol under control. For a better diet that still has plenty of tasty foods:
- Eat fewer foods with saturated fat or cholesterol -- that means less beef, pork, poultry with skin, and dairy from whole or 2% milk
- Have plenty of fruits, vegetables, beans, lean meats, and plant oils such as olive oil (but avoid coconut oil or palm oil)
- Stay away from trans fats -- if a food label has partially hydrogenated oils, put it back on the shelf
- Take in less salt, sugar, and alcohol
Take Care of Your Feet
Your feet may not heal as well as usual when they get hurt. Even a small cut can lead to bigger problems, so it helps to keep an eye on them.
To take care of them, you can:
Check the tops, bottoms, and between your toes every day. Look for even minor problems such as scratches, blisters, small cuts, or ingrown nails. If you see anything, let your doctor know about it. If you can’t see your feet, use a mirror or ask a family member to help.
Use lotion or cream to keep your feet from getting dry. You can do this as often as you need to throughout the day. Don’t put lotion between your toes and on sores or cuts.
Keep your toenails trimmed. It can help to clip your toenails after bathing. They’ll be softer then. You may also want to use a nail file.
Manage Other Health Problems
High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes can all make PAD worse if you don’t stay on top of them.
Work with your doctor to keep an eye on these problems.
In some cases, lifestyle changes aren’t quite enough. Your doctor may suggest you take medicine to:
- Decrease your chance of heart attack or stroke, such as aspirin or clopidogrel (Plavix)
- Prevent blood clots, such as warfarin (Coumadin, Jantoven)
- Provide more blood flow to your legs and feet, such as pentoxifylline (Trental, Pentoxil) or cilostazol (Pletal)
- Lower your cholesterol with statins (Crestor, Lipitor, Zocor)
Usually, lifestyle changes and medicine are all you need. But if you have a more severe case, you may need to have one of these:
- Angioplasty to widen the blocked artery and let more blood flow. Your surgeon might place a stent, or small mesh tube, in there to help keep it open.
- Atherectomy to remove plaque build-up
- Bypass surgery to give blood a different path around the blocked artery
PAD can be serious, but it’s also treatable. Your doctor can help you understand which options are best for you.