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Recognizing peripheral artery disease in women

February 24, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
About 8 million Americans have peripheral artery disease (PAD). Experts say the disease is going unnoticed in more women than men.

Only about 10 percent of people with peripheral vascular disease (PVD) experience the warning sign of leg pain. And often this pain goes away when a person is resting. As a result, few Americans receive prompt treatment. And ignoring this disease can lead to heart attack and stroke.

Peripheral vascular disease, also commonly referred to as peripheral arterial disease, is like the hardening and narrowing of blood vessels we hear about, but this affects the veins and arteries of the extremities.

"So specifically the leg versus central artery disease, which is of the heart," said cardiac surgeon Dr. Andrew Hurwitz, Glendale Memorial Hospital.

Although women develop PVD, the total number of women with this condition is greater than men. And unlike men, women don't present with the classic symptoms. Instead they have general achiness or fatigue, or they may not have any symptoms at all.

"The signs and symptoms are more insidious and it is forgotten about. It's usually diagnosed late, when gangrene and necrosis affects the toes," said Hurwitz.

The American Heart Association is calling for higher awareness of this disease, especially in women, because women are more likely to have greater functional impairment and loss of limbs.

Hurwitz would like to see more physicians do screening.

"I think it's really important for doctors to examine feet, and specifically to check the pulses in feet," said Hurwitz.

Legs with lower blood pressure than the arms is also a warning sign. Dr. Hurwitz says weight loss and exercise can reverse PVD.

Women with this condition are two to three times more likely to have a stroke or heart attack than those without it.

The Vascular Disease Foundation is asking healthcare providers to screen more people for PVD and would like to see more women-focused research into the disease.