TAMPA, Fla. (KFSN) --Peripheral arterial disease, or PAD, affects more than eight million Americans. Not only does it hobble them with pain in their legs, it's a bad sign of bigger problems ahead. And surprisingly, a lot of people who have it ... don't know it.
She may not be a master, but Lois Kander loves her weekly mahjong games.
She's tough with her tiles ... but helpless with her leg pain.
"It feels like if you're going to take one more step, you're going to drop," she told Ivanhoe.
Lois has PAD. The leg pain comes when muscles are robbed of enough blood. And, left untreated, PAD can increase the risk of heart attack or stroke by two to six times.
Patrick Cambier, MD, FACC, interventional cardiologist at Baycare Medical Group, says, "Patients really think it's arthritis, think it's something with their back."
Doctor Cambier says if it hurts to walk and disappears when you sit, it's probably PAD. Ultrasounds and measuring the blood pressure in the legs, ankles and toes can give doctors a definitive diagnosis.
"We can test it very easily, noninvasively." Cambier said.
He says PAD is treatable in several ways: with devices that cut thru blockages, by inserting a coated balloon that prevents those blocks from returning, and the easiest and cheapest treatment: walking several times a day.
"Now the first thing you're thinking about, and our viewers are probably thinking about, is 'well my legs are gonna hurt' well that's the point. The old adage-no pain no gain is absolutely spot on when it comes to peripheral vascular disease," Cambier explained.
These daily walks can literally build new arteries.
"You've got to have discomfort to stimulate the body to grow new arteries," Cambier told Ivanhoe.
Playing through the pain, Lois is trying to improve the hand she was dealt one step at a time.
Doctor Cambier says PAD usually affects the legs, not the upper body. Like most cardiovascular diseases, the risk of getting PAD increases in smokers, diabetics and those with high blood pressure.