Peripheral vascular disease: Heart disease in your legs

PVD defined

Think of peripheral vascular disease (PVD) as heart disease in your legs. The same factors that clog your coronary arteries with plaque pad the walls of your leg arteries.

PVD is a big deal for two reasons: it causes circulation problems that raise your risk of developing tough-to-heal sores on your feet, and it's a warning that arteries throughout your body are being narrowed by plaque. People diagnosed with PVD have a one-in-five chance of having a heart attack or stroke within a year.

Peripheral vascular disease: Heart disease in your legs

What causes it?

Deposits of plaque in the walls of the arteries that supply blood to your legs and/or arms is the cause for this nuisance. The deposits narrow arteries and restrict the flow of blood to your muscles. They can also trigger the formation of artery-blocking clots.

What are the symptoms?

Numbness or weakness in your legs; cold feet or legs; sores that won't heal on your toes, feet or legs; hair loss or changes in the colour of the skin on your legs and feet are all symptoms. Finally there is the pain or cramping that starts when you're active and disappears after you stop. Half of the people with PVD have very mild symptoms or no symptoms.

What can I do?

1. Quit smoking. Nothing's worse than tobacco smoke for the arteries. Smokers have a ten-fold higher risk for PVD than non-smokers do. Nicotine and other chemicals stiffen the flexible inner lining of artery walls, raising blood pressure and triggering changes that prompt the buildup of plaque in artery walls.

If you already have signs of PVD, such as leg pain, stopping smoking can double or triple the distance you can walk pain-free.

2. Control blood sugar. Having diabetes more than doubles your risk of PVD. If your blood sugar remains high, it's time for medication. In a British study of people with diabetes, those who kept their blood sugar under tight control cut their risk of serious PVD problems — like leg pain or the need for blood vessel surgery or even amputation — by 22 percent.

3. Manage cholesterol. Unhealthy cholesterol levels clog the walls of arteries in your legs just as they do in your heart. The best fix?

The same strategies that protect the arteries in your heart and brain; reduce your "bad" LDL cholesterol and boost your "good" HDL cholesterol.

  • Choose salmon instead of steak
  • Switch from refined grains to whole grains
  • Load your plate with fruits and veggies
  • Get exercise most days of the week.

4. Remember your history. Having had a heart attack or stroke more than triples your risk of PVD. If you've survived one of these life-threatening events, pamper your entire cardiovascular system so that you can live well. That means getting regular physical activity, eating right, cutting stress and taking your meds.

5. Lose weight. If you have a beer belly or any other form of extra fat around your middle, it's time to trim it. When Spanish researchers weighed and measured 708 men with and without PVD, they found that those carrying more fat around their middles had a 32 percent higher risk than those with trim, slim waists.

Experts recommend waist measurements under 102 centimetres (40 inches) for men and under 89 centimetres (35 inches) for women.

6. Add fibre. Researchers found that men who got 29 grams of fibre a day had a 33 percent lower risk of developing PVD compared to men who got just 13 grams a day. The guys who ate high-fibre foods got lots of whole grains, fruits and vegetables; compared to men who ate low-fibre foods, they also tended to exercise more and eat less fat, all strategies that keep blood vessels healthy.

Use the tips above to make a positive change for fabulous results.

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