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Peripheral artery disease of the legs - self-care

Alternate Names

Peripheral vascular disease - self-care; Intermittent claudication - self-care

Description

Peripheral artery disease is a narrowing of the blood vessels that bring blood to the legs and feet. It can occur when cholesterol and other fatty material (plaque) build-up on the walls of your arteries.

Walking Improves Blood Flow

A regular walking program will improve blood flow as new, small blood vessels form.

  • Warm up by walking at a pace that does not cause your normal leg symptoms.
  • Then walk to the point of mild-to-moderate pain or discomfort.
  • Rest until the pain goes away, then try walking again.

Your goal over time is to be able to walk 30 - 60 minutes. 

Always talk with your health care provider before you start an exercise program. Call your provider right away if you have any of these symptoms during or after exercise:

  • Chest pain
  • Breathing problems
  • Dizziness
  • An uneven heart rate 

Make simple changes to add walking to your day.

  • At work, try taking the stairs instead of the elevator, take a 5-minute walk break every hour, or add a 10- to 20-minute walk during lunch.
  • Try parking at the far end of the parking lot, or even down the street. Even better, try walking to the store.
  • If you ride the bus, get off the bus 1 stop before your normal stop and walk the rest of the way.

Lifestyle Changes

Stop smoking. Smoking narrows your arteries and increases the risk of blood clots forming. Other things you can do to stay as healthy as possible are to:

  • Make sure your blood pressure is well-controlled.
  • Reduce your weight, if you are overweight.
  • Eat a low-cholesterol and low-fat diet.
  • Test your blood sugar if you have diabetes, and keep it under control.

Take Care of Your Feet

Check your feet every day. Inspect the tops, sides, soles, heels, and between your toes. If you cannot see well, ask someone to check your feet for you. Look for:

  • Dry and cracked skin
  • Blisters or sores
  • Bruises or cuts
  • Redness, warmth, or tenderness
  • Firm or hard spots

Call your health care provider right way about any foot problems. Do not try to treat them yourself first.

What Else?

If you are taking medicines for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes, take them as your doctor has prescribed.

Your health care provider may prescribe other medicines to control your peripheral artery disease. Do NOT stop taking these medicines without first talking with your provider.

  • Aspirin or a medicine called clopidogrel (Plavix), which keeps your blood from forming clots
  • Cilostazol, a medicine that widens (dilates) the blood vessels

When to Call the Doctor

Call your health care provider if you have:

  • A leg or foot that is cool to the touch, pale, blue, or numb
  • Chest pain or shortness of breath when you have leg pain
  • Leg pain that does not go away, even when you are not walking or moving (called rest pain)
  • Legs that are red, hot, or swollen
  • New sores on your legs or feet
  • Signs of infection (fever, sweats, red and painful skin, general ill feeling)
  • Sores that do not heal

References

Mills JL. Lower extremity arterial disease In: Cronenwett JL, Johnston W, eds. Rutherford’s Vascular Surgery. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:section 15.  

Creager MA, Libby P. Peripheral arterial disease. In: Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: ATextbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 61.


Review Date: 7/12/2012
Reviewed By: Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, Washington. David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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