Dear Editor:

We all inevitably age, and with advancing age comes aches and pains. But experiencing pain in one or both legs may be more than just the normal aging process. Peripheral Artery Disease, or PAD, occurs when the arteries in our legs become narrow or blocked with atherosclerotic plaque.

September is Peripheral Artery Disease Awareness Month, a time to bring attention to this treatable and potentially preventable disease that, according to the American Heart Association, affects nearly eight million Americans.

These individuals are four to five times more likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke as a result of the same narrowing process that occurs in the blood vessels in the heart and brain, respectively. In addition, untreated PAD may result in gangrene, ultimately leading to amputation. The risk factors include smoking, high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure and genetics.

The most common PAD symptoms are pain, cramping or discomfort in the buttocks, thighs or calves when exercising, walking or climbing stairs. The symptoms usually resolve within a few minutes once the activity is stopped. The discomfort is the result of inadequate blood flow and oxygen delivery to the exercising muscles due to narrowing or blockages in the blood vessels.

If you are experiencing these symptoms, talk to your health care provider. They may suggest that an arterial Doppler study be performed; it's a simple, non-invasive test that may reveal PAD. If you are diagnosed with PAD, your health care provider or vascular surgeon can formulate a treatment plan to minimize progression of the disease and limit the associated potential complications.

In most cases, this may involve daily aspirin therapy, ambulatory exercise, and controlling complicating risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and smoking. In advanced cases, or when the above treatments fail, angioplasty, stenting or bypass surgery may be required.

At Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania, we offer health management programs through Blue Health Solutions that focus on managing cholesterol, eating right and exercising. Speak with your health care provider to see if these types of programs would benefit you.

This month, take time to learn more about PAD and to understand the signs and symptoms of the disease. If you are one of the eight million Americans who suffer from PAD, talk to your health care provider about minimizing the complications of PAD through appropriate treatment.

Brian J. Marien, M.D., R.V.T., F.A.C.S.,

vascular surgeonand Associate Medical Director for Blue Crossof NortheasternPennsylvania.