Myths are circulating that getting older is the sole cause of countless varieties of aches and pains. Nothing to be done, they say, as it is “a normal part of aging.” Don’t listen to these naysayers with defeatist attitudes because in today’s world the medical profession can do wonders.
And sometimes an ache or a pain needs to be addressed. Take painful cramping in the legs or hips while walking, or numbness, tingling or weakness in the legs, for example. These symptoms are often dismissed by seniors, but could be the sign of peripheral vascular disease (PVD), a condition in which the arteries that carry blood to the arms and legs have become narrowed or clogged causing interference with the normal flow of blood.
There are other symptoms of PVD as well, including severe cases that may cause burning or aching pain in the foot or toes while resting or the development of a sore on the leg or foot that doesn’t heal. In these advanced cases, people may notice a loss of hair on the leg or reddish discoloration of the foot. If you have PVD, you are also at higher risk for heart disease and stroke.
Unfortunately, the disease often goes undiagnosed because many people do not experience symptoms in the early stages of PVD or they mistakenly think the symptoms are caused by their simply getting older. This is a common condition among people past the age of 50, particularly in those with risk factors for vascular disease, including:
• Having high blood pressure or high cholesterol
• Having a family history of heart or vascular disease
• Being overweight or sedentary
So just how is a PVD diagnosis made? The ankle-brachial index is the most common test. This is a painless exam in which ultrasound is used to measure the ratio of blood pressure in the feet and arms. The blood pressure in your arms and ankles is checked using a blood pressure cuff and a special ultrasound stethoscope called a Doppler. The pressure in your foot is compared to the pressure in your arm to determine how well your blood is flowing and whether further tests are needed.
Once your healthcare provider has this information, decisions regarding treatments can be made. Most commonly, PVD and associated heart disease can be managed with lifestyle modifications, including smoking cessation, a healthy diet and an exercise program. These measures frequently improve symptoms with walking. Sometimes medication to lower cholesterol or aspirin will be recommended.
Treatments aimed at improving the circulation are only necessary for those with advanced symptoms, severely limiting the ability to walk or threatening the viability of the limb. In these cases, blocked arteries can be reopened or bypassed when necessary.
If you are experiencing symptoms or have any of the risk factors noted above, speak with your health care provider right away.
Be sure to listen to Senior Talk with Carol Higgins Taylor on WVOM FM 103.9 at 6 :30 a.m. Saturdays and 8 p.m. Sundays. The half-hour show is designed with seniors in mind. We talk about everything from health benefits to housing, social security to caregiving. Tune in and give a listen. If you miss a show, visit http:// www.wvomfm.com and listen to the podcast, exclusively sponsored by Bangor Nursing and Rehab Center.
Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at Eastern Area Agency on Aging. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. For information on EAAA, call 941-2865, toll-free 800-432-7812, email email@example.com or visit http://www.EAAA.org. TTY 992-0150.