Women are as vulnerable as men are to PAD

Many women who have leg discomfort typically chalk it up to achy joints or muscles. But that could be a dangerous assumption. Leg pain—in both women and men—could signal the presence of peripheral artery disease (PAD), a cardiovascular disorder characterized by insufficient blood flow to the legs.

Even scarier: PAD is often symptomless and routinely goes underdiagnosed and untreated. At its extreme, PAD can lead to amputation of the affected limb. In addition, it's a marker of related conditions that can lead to heart attack or stroke.

The American Heart Association (AHA) estimates that as many as 8 million American adults have the disease. Yet only one in four American adults are aware of PAD. Once thought to be a mostly male disease, PAD actually affects as many women as it does men. This misconception has led to some clinicians essentially ignoring risk factors and symptoms in women, effectively ruling out PAD as a possible health threat without performing diagnostic testing.

In fact, women with PAD have a two-to-three-times increased risk of heart attack or stroke than women without the disorder. One reason PAD goes unrecognized is the absence of studies that focus on the disease's effect on women. Experts believe there may be some subtle but important gender-based distinctions among men and women who have PAD.

The under-representation of women in studies, coupled with the profound lack of knowledge about PAD, has prompted the AHA to issue a call to action to improve awareness of the disease and urge doctors to test at-risk patients for PAD, especially females and everyone 50 and older. The organization issued its statement, in collaboration with the Vascular Disease Foundation, in the March 22, 2011 issue of the journal Circulation. The groups call for more PAD research involving women and for doctors to educate patients about the disease and inform them of their risks.

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