You may know that having diabetes raises your risk for atherosclerosis, or the narrowing of arteries caused by the buildup of fatty plaque. And you may have heard that atherosclerosis often affects the arteries near the heart, leading to angina or a heart attack.
But did you know that atherosclerosis can affect the arteries in other parts of the body, as well?
When atherosclerosis affects the arteries in your legs, it causes peripheral arterial disease, or PAD (also known as peripheral vascular disease). PAD can block blood flow in the legs, causing a cramping pain called intermittent claudication and slowing the healing of wounds on the feet. Wounds that can’t heal develop into ulcers, which may become infected or develop gangrene and require amputation.
A person with diabetes is 20 times more likely to develop PAD than someone without diabetes. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) estimates that 8-12 million Americans over the age of 50 have PAD. To raise awareness of the condition, the NHLBI has designated the week of September 18-22 “Stay in Circulation Week.” During this week, health organizations across the country will host events to raise awareness of PAD. Some organizations are partnering with the NHLBI to offer free PAD screenings. To find a screening site near you, check out the Web site of the Legs for Life program. Most of these screenings require advance registration.
Whether you’re able to attend a screening or not, the NHLBI recommends learning more about PAD so that you can talk to your doctor about your risk. The Web site www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/pad/pad_what.html is a good place to start.