Heart Risk Factors and Peripheral Arterial Disease

Men with certain cardiovascular risk factors may be at increased risk of developing peripheral arterial disease (PAD), according to new research from researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School. People with diabetes, and particularly those with Type 2 diabetes, are at increased risk of developing PAD, which affects between 8 and 10 million people in the United States.

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Peripheral arterial disease is a condition in which arteries leading to the legs and feet (or in some cases, to the arms) become blocked by fatty deposits known as plaque, reducing blood flow to these extremities. Many people with PAD have no symptoms, but when symptoms do appear, they may include cramping, numbness, or weakness in the legs or feet; shiny skin or hair loss; and no pulse or a weak pulse in the legs or feet.

To determine the degree to which four cardiovascular risk factors — smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and Type 2 diabetes — are associated with the risk of PAD in men, researchers looked at 44,985 men without a history of cardiovascular disease at the beginning of the study in 1986. Participants were followed for 25 years until January 2011; the presence of risk factors was updated every other year.

At a follow-up of 24.2 years, there were 537 cases of PAD. The researchers found that each of the four risk factors was significantly and independently associated with an increased risk of the condition. All men with a risk factor had a higher risk of developing PAD than men without a risk factor, regardless of how long they’d had the risk factor; each additional risk factor roughly doubled the risk for PAD. Men without any of the risk factors had a 77% lower chance of developing PAD than all other men in the group. The longer a man had had Type 2 diabetes or high cholesterol, the higher his risk of developing PAD.

According to the study authors, “in this well-characterized cohort of US men followed up for longer than 2 decades, smoking, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, and Type 2 diabetes each demonstrated strong, graded, and independent associations with risk of clinically significant PAD.”

To learn more about the research, read the article “Men With Certain Cardiovascular Risk Factors May Be at Increased Risk of Peripheral Artery Disease” or see the study’s abstract in The Journal of the American Medical Association. And for more information about peripheral arterial disease, see the article “When Your Legs Ache: Peripheral Arterial Disease and Diabetes.”

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