John Murano thought he was having back problems, and that his legs were hurting as a result. As it turns out, that pain may have saved his life.
An otherwise healthy 55-year-old, he figured he just needed to learn some back-strengthening exercises, so he found a personal trainer to help him. But despite the workouts, his leg pain got worse making it hard for him even to walk from the car to the grocery store entrance. He and the trainer suspected something else was wrong and he sought the advice of his doctor.
Soon his doctor’s tests revealed the true cause: blockages in the blood vessels of his legs. In fact, the arteries going to his lower extremities were nearly 100 percent blocked. The cause? Years of heavy smoking and high-fat meals, and other factors had caused cholesterol, scar tissue and blood clots to build up inside his blood vessels.
Most people think this kind of clogged artery disease, or arteriosclerosis, only happens in the heart. But as Murano’s case shows, it can happen throughout the body. When it does, it’s called peripheral arterial disease, or PAD.
Leg Pain could be a sign of possible peripheral artery disease.
And in some people, PAD causes leg pain that acts as an ‘early warning’ that someone is at high risk for a heart attack or a stroke.
In fact, nearly a quarter of people who have leg pain due to PAD will be dead in five years, mostly due to heart attacks and other heart problems, Dr. Davis says. For people like Murano, whose leg pain kept them from walking even short distances, the odds are even worse: as many as half will die by five years.
Fortunately, Murano got diagnosed and treated before that happened to him. Dr. Davis performed a vascular bypass operation to open his blocked leg arteries, similar to the bypasses that heart patients have. A recent checkup showed he’s doing well.
“For sure, it’s a wake-up call,” says Murano, who has quit smoking and changed his eating habits. “You know that old saying, ‘Where there’s smoke, there’s fire’? I’m sure that I not only have the vascular issues in my lower extremities, but I’m sure I have them in other parts of my body.”
Murano isn’t alone, says Dr. Davis, who has operated on many patients with severe PAD. Nearly 30 million people in the United States have some form of PAD, though the vast majority are “silent” cases that don’t cause symptoms. Among people over age 70, nearly one person in five has PAD.
Who’s most at risk for PAD? People over 50, smokers, people with diabetes, people with high blood pressure, people with high cholesterol, and people who are overweight or obese, Dr. Davis explains. In other words, it’s the same group of individuals who have a high risk of heart attack and stroke.