By Mary Best
"Know your numbers" is the message highlighted in "Stay in Circulation: Take Steps to Learn about P.A.D." This public awareness campaign, launched by NIH's National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), is intended to educate people about peripheral arterial disease (P.A.D.).
P.A.D. clogs the arteries in a person's legs. It is a slow process with minimal symptoms. The signs that do exist—such as cramps in your legs and fatigue—are often associated with aging. According to the NIH, one in every 20 Americans older than 50 has P.A.D. If left untreated, it can lead to amputation and death.
"The information in this campaign is intended to save lives," says Patrice Desvigne-Nickens, M.D. She directs the NHLBI's Cardiovascular Medicine Scientific Research Group in the Division of Heart and Vascular Disease. "P.A.D. has been underestimated and undervalued. But it is the same process that results in coronary artery disease. P.A.D. puts people at risk for stroke or heart attack. P.A.D. isn't new. It's just that, today,
we are better able to identify the problem early and prevent
Prevention Is Key
The best treatment for P.A.D. is education and awareness. And this is where the numbers come in: Smoking, high cholesterol, and diabetes are three critical factors in determining the risk of P.A.D. The only way to know if these critical measurements are normal is to be tested by a health care professional.
"Timely detection and treatment are critical to improving a person's quality of life. Being aware of the things that put
you at risk can help you develop a healthy lifestyle early," says Dr. Desvigne-Nickens.
She also says people should be aware of other risk factors. They are being over the age of 50, smoking, a history of heart attack or stroke, obesity, and lack of exercise. "There are 'heart healthy' things to do that will help prevent the progression of P.A.D.," she adds.
African Americans at Risk
African Americans have a particularly high prevalence of risk factors for P.A.D., notes Dr. Desvigne-Nickens. They are more likely to have high blood pressure, hypertension, and diabetes. Further, African Americans, especially women, tend toward obesity and inactivity.
The scientific community doesn't fully understand why P.A.D. is so prevalent among African Americans. "Regardless of other risk factors, being African American means you are twice as likely to have P.A.D.," Dr. Desvigne-Nickens says.
According to her, genetics further underscore the message of Stay in Circulation. "P.A.D. is a silent disease, so it is important to know your risks, know your numbers, have regular checkups, manage your weight, exercise, and adopt healthy habits."
Activities and Events
To raise awareness about P.A.D., NHLBI, in cooperation with the P.A.D. Coalition, is sponsoring the Stay in Circulation: Take Steps to Learn About P.A.D. campaign during September. September is P.A.D. Awareness Month. A special week of activities—Stay in Circulation Week—is planned for September 15-19. Ongoing activities to support the campaign are aimed at increasing awareness of P.A.D. and include:
- National and Local Partnership Development. Stay in Circulation has partnered with national, nonprofit, community-based, and private sector organizations to raise awareness about P.A.D. Many of these partners, such as the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the National Council on Aging, have hosted P.A.D. awareness seminars and distributed Stay in Circulation materials to their members. During Stay in Circulation Week in the month of September, a number of local partners hold screening events in their communities.
- Education and Outreach to Health Care Providers. Through the P.A.D. Coalition, the Stay in Circulation campaign helps ensure that health care providers have the materials and resources needed to talk to their patients about P.A.D. and what steps they can take to lower their risk.