Reduced Blood Flow and Circulation to Legs

Nearly 8.5 million Americans over the age of 40 have peripheral arterial disease (PAD), sometimes called peripheral vascular disease (PVD). PAD is the narrowing or blockage of the vessels that carry blood from the heart to your legs, which are most commonly affected. It is caused by a buildup of plaque inside the artery wall that decreases circulation.

Men are at higher risk for developing PAD. Other risks include:

  • Age (especially over 65)
  • Diabetes
  • Family history of PAD
  • History of heart disease, hypertension and high cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Unhealthy lifestyle

Symptoms, Diagnosis and Outlook

About half of the people diagnosed with PAD often experience no symptoms at all. When symptoms do occur, they may include:

  • Calf or leg pain/cramps when walking, which disappears when you stop
  • Skin changes on your legs, becoming thin, brittle or shiny
  • Hair loss on your legs
  • Gangrene (dead tissue)
  • Numbness, weakness or heaviness in leg and calf muscles
  • Pain in your feet or calves at rest, commonly at night while lying flat
  • Weak pulses in your legs and feet
  • Wounds that won't heal on heels or ankles

Screening for PAD should be done at your annual well visit, especially once you reach age 65. Your primary care doctor should check to see if you have strong pulses in both your feet. If the pulse is weak or you are complaining of symptoms, your doctor will order an ultrasound of your arteries. You may need further testing, including a computed tomography (CT) scan or an angiogram, to determine the best treatment plan for you.

When PAD is caught early, it is treatable with an angiogram or with artery bypass surgery. If the disease is advanced and traditional treatments aren’t successful, the vascular team will work with you to prevent non-healing wounds and preserve the limb.

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Why Choose Penn State Health for Care

Advanced Expertise, Expert Care

The team of PAD experts at Penn State Health provides the most advanced care available in the region. We have the most experienced vascular team and the largest vascular surgeon group in central Pennsylvania.

Our medical team is consistently recognized nationally through Best Doctors in America and America’s Top Doctors awards. Our specialists also train future vascular surgeons and we are one of only 50 training programs in the United States.

A Comprehensive, Multidisciplinary Team Approach

If you suffer from PAD, you likely have other chronic health conditions and are being seen by several doctors. We work closely with your other physicians to make sure you have a complete care plan, personalized for your health needs. We develop a lifelong relationship with our patients so we can manage any symptoms that may arise. Our vascular surgeons, cardiologists, radiologists and researchers have decades of experience managing and treating PAD.

Advancing Research in Peripheral Arterial Disease

Penn State Health is involved in many clinical and laboratory projects to help improve our care for  peripheral arteria disease patients. These projects also aim to develop new therapies for this challenging disease. Research at Penn State Health Stroke Center includes:

  • BEST-CLI Trial: In this national trial, the patients with critical limb ischemia of legs are randomized to receive either endovascular treatment or peripheral arterial bypass surgery.  The goal of the trial is to determine which type of intervention suits specific cohorts of patients.

Cutting-Edge Surgical Treatments

If you have peripheral arterial disease, the Penn State Health Stroke Center offers cutting-edge treatment options with skilled vascular surgeons. Vascular surgeons at Penn State Health are nationally renowned for the comprehensive vascular care they provide, encompassing medical management, minimally invasive endovascular interventions and open surgical operations to restore blood flow to the legs.

Minimally Invasive Treatments

These interventions use a balloon and a stent (a hollow tube of wire-like mesh) to open a narrow peripheral artery from inside your blood vessel. During this procedure your surgeon:

  • Inserts a flexible tube (sheath) into a large artery in your femoral artery, which is in your groin area
  • Guides the catheter up to the blocked leg artery and  passes the balloon through the catheter to the blocked part of your artery
  • Inflates the balloon when in place
  • Places a stent across the affected area, which will keep the artery open

These interventions are done while you are awake. Recovery time is short and most patients usually go home the next day. 

Peripheral Arterial Bypass Surgery

During leg bypass surgery, the surgeon opens or cleans out your artery or performs bypass to increase blood flow through the blocked arteries in the leg. Such surgeries are designed to prevent limb loss in patients presenting with the worst form of peripheral arterial disease in form of gangrene or leg wounds.

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