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Lifestyle changes help manage PAD

If you have peripheral artery disease, or PAD, some lifestyle changes may be among your doctor's orders. Healthy living can help protect your legs and lower your heart attack and stroke risk.

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) puts you at risk for serious health problems, including cardiovascular disease and even loss of limb. And the symptoms of PAD can limit your ability to walk without pain.

However, whether you end up with these problems and whether they continue is, in part, up to you. Following your doctor's treatment plan and making some lifestyle changes can help keep the disease in check.

A matter of life and limb

Most cases of PAD—a narrowing of the arteries to the legs, arms and feet that's usually caused by a plaque buildup—can be managed with lifestyle changes and medication, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

That's a good thing, because treatment can be important for both life and limb. Because it's a marker for atherosclerosis elsewhere in the body, PAD brings with it an increased risk for heart attack and stroke.

And in many people, the decreased blood flow resulting from PAD causes leg symptoms such as cramping or fatigue that can affect walking ability and impair quality of life. These symptoms, called intermittent claudication, usually occur while walking or climbing stairs but typically stop when you rest.

Severe blood-flow problems may lead to a burning or aching pain in the feet and toes while resting and, in extreme cases, put the leg at risk for amputation.

What you can do

Fortunately, making some healthy changes can help you control PAD and reduce your risk for heart attack and stroke:

If you smoke, quit now. Smoking is a major risk factor for PAD. When you already have PAD, quitting smoking helps slow the progression of the disease and reduces your risk for heart trouble.

Choose a healthy diet. To help keep PAD from getting worse (and to help lower your risk for heart attack and stroke), eat less saturated and trans fats, the AHA recommends.

Exercise. Regular exercise is often an effective treatment for PAD, according to the AHA.

Exercise can:

  • Improve walking distance if you have intermittent claudication. Research suggests that supervised exercise plans can double or triple the distance people with PAD can walk without discomfort, according to Vascular Cures.
  • Decrease your risk for heart attack and stroke. Exercise helps with weight management and blood pressure control and improves cholesterol and overall heart and blood vessel condition.

An exercise plan for someone who has PAD might involve walking on a treadmill or a track for 50 minutes at least three times a week. Exercise programs for people with PAD take leg pain into account, alternating periods of exercise and rest to build up the amount of time you can walk before pain starts.

Your doctor can help you plan an exercise program that will work with your PAD symptoms.

Work with your doctor. Sometimes lifestyle changes aren't enough. Your doctor may recommend medicines to control conditions such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

Reviewed 12/2/2022

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