Stinting devices, like the one seen here, are among the treatment options available for peripheral arterial disease — which is classified as plaque buildup in the arteries, thereby resulting in poor circulation.
ALBANY, Ga. -- While certain lifestyle factors may draw attention to the importance of a healthy heart, it can be easy to overlook how they impact the circulatory system as a whole.
The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute describes peripheral arterial disease, or P.A.D., as a disease in which plaque builds up in the arteries that carry blood throughout the body, over time hardening and narrowing the arteries and limiting the flow of blood.
The condition -- which can involve blockage anywhere outside the heart -- is one that 8 million people in the United States suffer from, with prevalence increasing with age in both men and women, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics show.
Aside from pain and numbness, there may not be any clear outward signals that circulation is being blocked. For many physicians, the legs are the main area of concern for monitoring the disease.
"People (with P.A.D.) may have leg pain and ignore it," said Michelle Rash, education and outreach specialist with Albany Vascular Specialist Center. "That's why they call it the silent killer. People don't realize how serious it is."
Albany Vascular, in conjunction with an outreach effort by the NHLBI -- called the "Stay in Circulation" campaign -- is conducting an awareness campaign of its own dubbed "Save a Leg ... Save a Life."
The Albany campaign, Rash said, is set to involve Facebook postings, signage with information on P.A.D. as well as reduced-cost screenings at area churches and the Albany Vascular office on Dawson Road.
On Friday, three different screening tests are being offered at the practice for a total of $99. That event will be followed by a similar one at Camilla Baptist Church on March 16, Rash said.
"Our goal is to create awareness, because people don't know," she said.
Diagnosis can come as a result of blood pressure checks in the ankle as well as the arm, an ultrasound, a treadmill test, a magnetic resonance angiogram or an arteriogram, the NHLBI says.
Dr. Tripp Morgan of Albany Vascular said the surgical procedures involved in treating P.A.D. generally have a mortality rate of 20 percent.
"The five-year survival rate of P.A.D. is similar to that of colon cancer," he said.
In 4 to 6 percent of cases, amputation of the affected limb is determined to be the best course of action. Heart attack and stroke are among the additional risks associated with P.A.D., Morgan said.
The condition is known by a number of names, including hardening of the arteries, atherosclerosis or vascular disease. Risk factors, as listed by the NHLBI, include smoking, high amounts of certain fats and cholesterol in the blood, high blood pressure and diabetes. These factors potentially put the majority of Southwest Georgia residents at risk.
"The prevalence (here) has been steady, if it has not increased," Morgan said. "(Occurrence) mirrors that of coronary artery disease.
"If you have hardening of the arteries in the leg, you have it in your heart."
Some of the symptoms associated with P.A.D. include weak or absent pulses in the legs or feet, sores or wounds that heal slowly or not at all, discoloration of the skin, lower temperature in one leg compared to the other and poor nail or hair growth, information available from the NHLBI says.
Bypass grafting surgery, angioplasty and stenting or atherectomy -- the latter of which involves utilizing a catheter with a small cutting device to break up the plaque -- are among the procedures doctors can use to treat the condition. Aside from medical procedures, instituting ways to quit smoking, lower blood pressure and high cholesterol and blood sugar levels, and being physically active are ways recommended by experts to treat the disease.
"There are many that have it but are not being screened for it," Morgan said. "If we identify patients early, we can have an impact on the disease process and can get people to live longer.
"(It would improve) quality of life and length of life."
The Online Analytical Statistical Information System, an online database maintained by the Georgia Department of Public Health, shows that in 2010 -- the most recent year for which data are available -- there were 12 deaths in the 14-county Southwest Public Health District connected to hardening of the arteries.
Of the 14 counties, seven had deaths that year in connection to the disease. Early County had four deaths, Colquitt and Seminole each had two deaths, while Calhoun, Decatur, Dougherty and Worth each had one death.
For more information on the "Save a Leg ... Save a Life" campaign, call Albany Vascular at (229) 436-8535.