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Taking Your Health to Heart


By Jesse VanLe, MD, HeartCare Midwest

As we age, it can be challenging to distinguish signs of aging from symptoms that point to potential health risks. Early recognition of potential health problems is an important part of staying healthy. One of the areas where early recognition is most crucial to recovery is the heart, and blood circulation in particular.

The heart pumps blood to the body through the circulatory system—the system of blood vessels consisting of arteries and veins. Arteries pump blood away from the heart, while veins pump blood back to the heart. Vascular diseases refer to any condition affecting the circulatory system. Any blood vessel disease outside of the heart and brain is referred to as peripheral vascular disease (PVD).

The most common form of PVD is peripheral artery disease (PAD). This occurs when plaque builds up inside the arteries. Plaque narrows the artery and decreases the amount of blood and oxygen that can flow through it. PAD can affect arteries in the legs, stomach, arms, and head.

Adults over 50 have a one in 20 chance of being affected by PAD. Additional risk factors for developing PAD are smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Men over 50 and postmenopausal women are at a higher risk of developing PAD, along with those who live a sedentary lifestyle or are overweight.

Unfortunately, many people don’t realize they have PAD or mistake it for another condition. Visit your doctor if you notice symptoms such as:

  • Pain, numbness, or aching in your legs when walking
  • Cramping in your legs, buttocks, thighs, calves, or feet
  • Sores or wounds on your legs or feet that are not healing well
  • Pale or bluish skin tone
  • One leg that feels colder than the other
  • Erectile dysfunction, especially if you’re a man with diabetes

Often times, these symptoms are influenced by physical activity. When you are moving, your body requires more blood and oxygen than it does when at rest. The lack of adequate blood and oxygen can cause cramping and pain during activity that will subside when the movement stops. This is called intermittent claudication. As the disease progresses, these symptoms will occur more frequently and with less provocation.

If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor about your risk of developing PAD. There are multiple tests that can be performed to determine if you are suffering from this disease. Depending on the severity of the PAD, treatment may involve living a healthier lifestyle, taking medication to improve blood flow, stents to widen the artery, or surgery to reroute the blood flow.

The conditions associated with PAD can also increase your risk for heart disease, including heart attack and stroke.

To find out whether you’re at risk, take our quick PAD risk assessment at

Jesse VanLe, MD is a Cardiovascular Surgeon at HeartCare Midwest at OSF St. Joseph Medical Center. HeartCare Midwest is the largest, and one of the most advanced and experienced cardiovascular groups in the heart of Illinois. Through a partnership with OSF HealthCare, HeartCare Midwest provides patients with the best in clinical practices and technology. To learn more about HeartCare Midwest, call 309-663-9800.