PAD can be treated with lifestyle changes, medication, surgery or other procedures.

Lifestyle changes. Adopting healthy habits may stop the progression of PAD and reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke. If you smoke, quit—this is the single most important change you can make. Eat a diet low in fat and salt. And keep your cholesterol, blood pressure and glucose levels in check.

Everyone who has PAD needs regular exercise. Because moving improves circulation, walking is the best way to reduce intermittent claudication. Although walking may be painful, it doesn't harm the legs. Studies have shown that exercise reduces leg pain as well as—or even better than—surgery or angioplasty. Develop a fitness plan with your doctor that includes a walking program. Try to be physically active nearly every day; a good goal is to work up to a daily 50-minute walk.

Medication. In many cases, doctors prescribe drugs. For some patients, cilostazol (Pletal) can increase the distance they walk before symptoms occur or relieve leg discomfort provoked by walking. Statins have also been shown to increase walking distance in some patients with claudication. ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers, statins and antiplatelet agents such as clopidogrel and low-dose aspirin all reduce cardiovascular risks and have been proved to decrease death rates in people with PAD.

Other interventions. If symptoms persist, the following procedures may help:

  • Angioplasty. A surgeon snakes a balloon-tipped catheter through a puncture in the groin under local anesthesia into the diseased artery. He or she then inflates the balloon to push aside blockages. Stents (wire mesh tubes) may be inserted into the artery to increase blood flow.
  • Leg bypass surgery. If an artery is more extensively clogged, surgery can prevent amputation. Surgeons sew a vessel bypass graft—either man-made or from your own body—into the diseased artery to reroute blood around trouble spots.
  • Thrombolytic therapy. If a blood clot suddenly blocks your artery, your doctor can inject it with a clot-dissolving substance.

The bottom line

Leg pain isn't a natural part of aging. Even if you don't have symptoms, discuss your risk of PAD with your doctor.

Source: Prepared by the Editors of The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter: Health After 50

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 10 Jul 2013

Last Modified: 12 Feb 2015