Approximately twenty per cent of people aged over 60 suffer from peripheral arterial disease1. It is usually caused by a buildup of fatty tissues and plaque on the interior walls of major arteries in the legs. This buildup, known as arterial atherosclerosis, narrows the arteries and reduces blood flow to the legs.
This can often lead to pain when exercising or even everyday tasks such as walking. The condition is entirely treatable, with a large range of treatment options available. The most effective of these treatments is angioplasty, which is fast, painless and has a very short recovery period.
Some people who suffer from peripheral arterial disease won’t exhibit many symptoms. However, for others, the symptoms can be quite painful and lifestyle-altering.
Common symptoms include pain or cramps in your calf or buttocks while walking. This is known as claudication. The pain is normally brought on with exercise and resolves with rest. Many sufferers are unable to walk distances greater than 50 metres without being forced to rest. When there is pain even at rest, then the condition is more serious and the limb is at threat of irreversible damage.
Other features can include hair loss on the feet or toes, or consistently cold or numb feet and toes. One of the more worrying symptoms is the body’s inability to heal wounds and sores on the legs, due to the restricted blood supply.
Identifying a Blocked Artery
Identifying a blocked artery is a relatively simple process. Your doctor will examine your feet and legs and palpate your pulses.
An abnormal examination will lead to further investigation such as ultrasound or a CT angiogram.
Angioplasty is a minimally invasive procedure that is one of the preferred methods of treating narrowed or blocked arteries. It involves inserting a balloon over a guide wire through the artery and inflating it to restore the calibre on the inside of the artery.
Fig 4. Angioplasty balloon inflated inside an artery
How Angioplasty is performed by Dr. Albert Goh
Dr. Albert Goh is an interventional radiologist with immense experience treating stenosed (narrowed) and occluded (blocked) arteries and similar medical concerns. His angioplasty procedure is among the most effective and least painful.
Fig 5. Angiogram shows main artery blocked in the right thigh
The procedure involves firstly identifying the immediate cause and level of the blockage. Then, a guide wire is carefully inserted into the artery, passing through the occlusion and following the artery beyond the blockage.
Once this guide wire has traversed the abnormal narrowed or blocked region of artery, a small balloon is advanced over it and inflated to expand the arterial lumen. This has an immense success rate of restoring the capacity of the artery, re-establishing blood flow and allowing patients to walk again without pain.
Fig 6. Repeat angiogram post-angioplasty shows restoration of calibre and brisk flow in previously occluded artery
The major advantage of this treatment method is its efficiency and simplicity. No incision is required, just a small puncture near the groin area. Due to this, only a local anaesthetic is required and it can be performed in a single day, with no overnight stay required.
Most patients are up and about on the same day as the procedure. If it’s performed in the morning, you can have full mobility by the afternoon.
Due to the minimally invasive methods employed by Dr. Goh, recuperation time is minimal. The recommendation for most is light exercise. After all, once mobility has been fully restored, most patients are very eager to get out and about. The health benefits of exercise are widely known and improved blood supply to the legs makes this possible.
Dr. Goh recommends taking a few simple steps to minimise a repeat procedure.
- Quit smoking
- Increase the level of exercise you get.
- Control your cholesterol and blood sugar.
- Maintain healthy weight and blood pressure.
These are all good strategies for avoiding further concerns with other arteries.
If you feel that you exhibit any of the symptoms of peripheral arterial disease, visit your GP as soon as possible.
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1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2016. Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) Fact Sheet.