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 through 2004.
All rights reserved