MONDAY, June 20 (HealthDay News) -- Millions of Americans suffer
from a condition known as peripheral artery disease but aren't
receiving medical treatment, putting them at risk of potentially
fatal heart problems, a new study finds.
Those who had the condition but didn't take medications were
more likely to die of all causes during the period studied,
although it's not clear how the disease specifically affected their
health, the researchers noted.
The findings, released online June 20 in advance of publication
in an upcoming print issue of the journal
Circulation, reinforce the belief that peripheral artery disease, or PAD, is an early warning sign of possible clogged vessels elsewhere in the body, said study lead author Dr. Reena L. Pande, a cardiologist and associate professor at Harvard Medical School.
"We think of it as a manifestation of a whole-body problem," she said. "What happens in the legs can happen in other parts of the body, like the heart and the brain even."
Atherosclerosis -- or blockages in the arteries in the legs
caused by plaque -- is the source of PAD. Physicians have long
known about the condition, but it's only begun to receive much
attention in the last couple of decades, Pande said.
People with the condition may experience cramping in the hips,
thighs or calves, pain and burning sensations in the legs, ulcers
and even amputation. But in many cases, no symptoms occur.
A simple test of the blood pressure in the arm and the ankle can
detect the condition, and there's debate about whether the test
should be routine, said Pande, who is also an associate physician
at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
In the new study, funded in part by federal grants, Pande and
colleagues analyzed statistics from a national survey of 7,458
people aged 40 and older. The participants were tracked from 1999
The researchers found that about 6 percent of the participants
suffered from peripheral artery disease, translating to about 7
million adults in the United States. Of those, 25, 36 and 31
percent, respectively, took high blood pressure medication, aspirin
or cholesterol drugs.
Those who took two or more of the drugs were 65 percent less
likely to die of all causes during the seven years of the study,
Pande said. However, she said the percentages of people who died in
each group -- those who took two or more drugs and those who didn't
-- weren't available.
The research "raises the question of whether we should be
looking for these people to get them on the appropriate
treatments," Pande said. "We don't have any studies that tell us
that if we find them and treat them, they'll have a lowered risk of
dying. But it makes us wonder if we should try to find these
individuals with a simple screening test."
The screening test is inexpensive and can be conducted by health
care professionals other than doctors, she said. As for cost, at
least one of the medications in question -- aspirin -- is very
Dr. Jeffrey W. Olin, a vascular medicine specialist at Mount
Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, said the study provides
more evidence that doctors should take peripheral artery disease
seriously and treat it. In many cases, he said, doctors don't
prescribe medications even when they know a patient has the
"We've been working on this for 15 years, trying to get health care providers to be aware of the fact that people with peripheral artery disease don't die because of their legs," he said. "They die because they have heart attacks and strokes."
For more about
peripheral artery disease, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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