Screening the Legs for a Serious Condition

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Researchers in Canada are recommending that people over age 40 be screened for peripheral arterial disease, or PAD, a condition of the legs and feet that is associated with a higher risk of complications such as heart disease, stroke, and lower limb amputations. People with diabetes are more likely than those in the general population to develop PAD, which affects roughly 8–12 million Americans.

The condition, which is characterized by a narrowing of the arteries that supply blood to the legs, typically causes cramping, pain, or tiredness in the legs, particularly when walking or exercising; numbness, tingling, or coldness in the lower legs or feet; and infections in the legs or feet that heal slowly. In some people, however, symptoms are very mild, and in others there may be no symptoms at all.

Ross Tsuyuki, PharmD, MSc, and his colleagues at the University of Alberta looked at 362 people over age 50 who had visited pharmacies and doctors’ offices in Central and Northern Alberta. After extensive screening, 17 people, or 5% of the participants, were diagnosed with PAD. Significantly, 80% of those diagnosed had not previously been aware that they had the condition.

According to Dr. Tsuyuki, “The pain some PAD patients experience is the lower limb equivalent of the chest pain from the heart. PAD is as serious as heart disease and its prevention and treatment is similar. It’s unique in that it manifests in the legs but is just as urgent.”

Screening for PAD is a painless and relatively simple procedure that involves comparing the blood pressure in the leg to that in the arm. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends that people who are over 50 and have diabetes be screened for PAD even if they have no symptoms and that people under 50 who have risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or a history of diabetes longer than 10 years also receive screening.

To learn more about Dr. Tsuyuki’s research, read the article “Angina In The Legs? Time To Alert Patients And Physicians.” And for more information about PAD, see “When Your Legs Ache: Peripheral Arterial Disease and Diabetes.”

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