PAD affects nearly 4 million American women. The good news is that in many cases PAD is preventable. Knowing your personal PAD risk factors and taking steps to control them can dramatically reduce your risk of developing PAD and its complications, including leg amputation, heart attack, stroke, and even death.
Step 1: Know Your Risk Factors for PAD
Risk factors are characteristics or conditions that increase your risk of developing a disease. The first step toward preventing PAD is knowing what factors are putting you at risk.
Am I At Risk for PAD? for a list of common risk factors and links to articles that teach you what they are, how to know if you have them, and how they make you more likely to develop PAD.
Step 2: Get Your Risk Factors under Control
The most important thing you can do to prevent PAD is to work with your doctor to get your personal PAD risk factors under control through lifestyle changes and medication if necessary. Whether your overall risk is low or high, and whether you have only one risk factor or ten, you can benefit from changes to reduce your risk of developing PAD. Getting your risk factors under control will also make you less likely to develop other forms of artery disease, including coronary artery disease and stroke.
Below are some general steps you can take to reduce your risk:
- If you smoke, get the help you need to quit. There are medications, support groups, and programs to help you stop smoking. Your doctor can also help. See our section on quitting smoking
- Eat a heart-healthy diet that includes plenty of fruit, green vegetables, and whole grains, and is low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Healthy diet plans that reduce your risk of heart and blood vessel disease include:
- The Mediterranean diet
- The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet
- The Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) diet
- Get regular physical activity – at least 30 minutes a day most days each week; the more active you are, the lower your risk
- Maintain a healthy weight. If you are overweight or obese, work with your doctor to decide on a weight loss plan and set reasonable goals. Losing even 10% of your body weight can make a huge difference.
- Know your blood pressure numbers and work with your doctor to get them to a healthy level
- Know your cholesterol numbers and work with your doctor to get them under control
- If you have diabetes, work with your doctor to control your blood sugar levels, and practice proper foot care: check your feet every day for cuts, blisters, red marks, or swelling
- Know your family medical history
- If you have other heart conditions, stick to your treatment plan and take all your medications as prescribed
- See your doctor regularly to track your health and your progress on your prevention goals; how often you need tests and check-ups depends on your individual age and health.
Step 3: Know the Signs of PAD
Working with your doctor to identify conditions that are putting you at risk and getting them under control will go a long way towards lowering your risk of PAD. Unfortunately, it is not possible to eliminate the risk of PAD completely, and some women will still develop the disease despite their best efforts.
Women whose PAD is detected and treated early are more likely to retain their independence and mobility, have less severe symptoms and a better quality of life, and are less likely to suffer complications like leg amputation, heart attack, stroke, and even death. Be sure you know how to recognize the symptoms of PAD and seek prompt medical attention if you experience them. If you are older than 70, 50 or older with major risk factors for PAD, or younger than 50 and have diabetes, talk to your doctor about whether you would benefit from a screening test (usually an Ankle-Brachial Index test) to detect PAD before it causes serious problems.
- Lloyd-Jones D, Adams RJ, Brown TM, et al. Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics-2010 Update. A Report From the American Heart Association. Circulation. December 17 2009.
- Garg PK, Tian L, Criqui MH, et al. Physical activity during daily life and mortality in patients with peripheral arterial disease. Circulation. Jul 18 2006;114(3):242-248.