Bountiful man reports relief after treatment for peripheral artery disease
BOUNTIFUL — Ralph Wright was having numbness and swelling in his legs. The muscles were so weak, he could barely walk.
“I was having a lot of trouble walking and I was also having a lot of pain,” said the 91-year-old Bountiful resident. “I had been diagnosed earlier with peripheral neuropathy and the symptoms were very similar.”
After reading an article about peripheral artery disease, however, Wright scheduled an appointment with the doctor and was diagnosed with the common but little known problem.
“They did an ultrasound and were able to tell the blood flow was not normal, so they scheduled me for a procedure to clean out the arteries,” Wright said. “It’s a relatively minimally invasive procedure.”
Peripheral artery disease, or PAD, is caused by the buildup of fatty material inside the arteries, said Dr. Ryan O’Hara, an endovascular specialist with Comprehensive Integrated Care in Murray. The buildup occurs gradually over time and hardens into plaque buildup inside the artery. Plaque narrows the vessel, restricting the amount of blood that flows throughout the body.
“It’s not normal to have difficulty walking to your mailbox,” O’Hara said. “It’s not normal to have constant leg pain or cramping.”
O’Hara said the disease is sometimes referred to as “the silent killer” because a lot of people assume their symptoms are just a sign of aging, but those assumptions could prove deadly. If undiagnosed and untreated, the disease can lead to heart attack, stroke or even tissue death and amputation.
“It can affect you anywhere, but it usually occurs in the lower extremities such as the legs, feet and toes,” O’Hara said. “It affects more men than women, generally 60 years old and over, and is fairly common, although a lot of people don’t know about it.”
O’Hara said symptoms can include crampy pain with walking and a limited ability to walk. People can also experience pain at rest and often at night.
“Without blood supply, the nerves and muscles become starved for nutrients and you start having the cramping and pain,” he said. “You can also have tingling, burning and numbness.”
Dr. Christopher Parr, a diagnostic radiologist at Ogden Regional Medical Center, said severe cases of PAD can also cause sores and ulcers.
“I also see people who have an inability to walk. Their legs are too fatigued to move,” Parr said. “The risk factors include age, smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Realistically, if you take an all-encompassing view of PAD, it’s one of the leading causes of death, factoring its role in stroke and heart attack.”
O’Hara said genetics can also play a role in the development of PAD.
“It’s a common disease and is increasingly common as diabetes becomes more prevalent, and it can be very dangerous,” he said.
Depending on the severity of the disease, O’Hara and Parr said treatment can include lifestyle changes and medical management if plaque has not caused narrowing that produces risks or symptoms.
“Medical management can include clot thinners in many cases and clot busters in more advanced cases,” Parr said. “Angioplasty, the surgical unblocking or repair of the vessels, is needed for severe cases and can include the placing of stents, for example.”
O’Hara said there’s definitely hope and excellent treatment available.
“We can do a minimally invasive procedure using image guidance to go inside the artery to find the blockage,” he said. “Then we can remove the blockage and restore blood flow.”
The procedure is done in an office setting and patients are home within hours with hardly any downtime, O’Hara said. If neuropathy (nerve pain) is involved, it can be a little more challenging, but about 80% of those people eventually experience some relief in their symptoms.
Wright said after having the procedure, the swelling in his legs went down.
“I got up the next day and went about my normal activities,” Wright said. “I still have numbness, weakness and pain. It’s a nerve pain and I still have trouble walking. But I understand it can take some time if the symptoms are serious, so we’ll wait to see what develops.”