Deadly But Unknown: Peripheral Artery Disease

FRESNO, Calif.

Forty-one-year old Joe flood loves nothing more than playing a quick pick-up game of soccer with his kids.

"I'm comfortable doing that cause it's stop and go," Joe Flood, told Ivanhoe. "When they get older and they run continuously, I will have a hard time keeping up with them."

Joe has peripheral artery disease, a buildup of plaque in the arteries in his legs that causes a decrease in blood flow. When Joe was in his mid-twenties, his legs and feet started to suddenly cramp or go numb.

"All of these symptoms would come as i would try to run, jog or go up steps. Anything that would put a lot of extra effort into my legs," Joel said.

Doctor Emile Mohler says younger patients can make the deadly mistake of ignoring signs of PAD, like leg pain because they think they've just pulled a muscle.

"Whenever you have cholesterol building in the leg you tend to have it in the carotid artery in the neck, so you are at much higher risk for heart attack and stroke," Emile Mohler, M.D., director, and vascular surgeon at the University of Pennsylvania Health System, explained.

Without adequate blood flow, tissue in the legs and feet can die and develop into gangrene. Researchers believe smoking spurs chronic inflammation in blood vessels leading to PAD. Female smokers are 17 times more likely than non-smokers to develop the condition. While PAD affects males and females equally, African Americans are twice as likely to develop it.

Their increased risk makes them as vulnerable as someone who has smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for twenty years.

The most effective treatment is quitting smoking and exercising to improve blood flow. Exercise is what's helped Joe.

"My body sort of fixed itself by being in shape," Joe said.

Now, with regular checkups, PAD won't keep him on the sidelines.

While lifestyle changes like diet and exercise often help improve symptoms of those with PAD. Doctors can also prescribe medication for cholesterol, blood clots or perform surgery for blockages.

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