PAD: The Health Disparity Nobody Knows About

How much do your patients know about peripheral arterial disease (PAD), a common and dangerous cardiovascular condition that is an especially serious health threat for African Americans? There’s a good chance the answer is: not very much. The results of a recent survey, published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, found that nearly 75% of respondents had never heard of PAD, even though it affects some 8 million Americans. According to the AHA, people with PAD have a four to five times higher risk of heart attack or stroke, and African Americans are twice as likely to develop PAD compared to other racial and ethnic groups.

PAD is similar to coronary artery disease, but in this case the arteries most commonly affected are in the legs and pelvis. It occurs when atherosclerosis develops in these arteries, reducing blood flow to the legs and feet and causing pain when walking. If left untreated, PAD can result in blood clots, leg sores or ulcers and, eventually, amputation. The good news is that PAD, like other cardiovascular diseases, can be managed with medication and heart-healthy lifestyle changes.

Just how low is public awareness of PAD? Participants in the Circulation study were much more aware of rarer diseases that affect far fewer people, such as Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) and cystic fibrosis. Of the respondents who were familiar with PAD, less than 30% associated the disease with an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, amputation or death. Even worse, the vast majority of participants did not know the causes or risk factors of PAD, which include smoking, diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, obesity and being over the age of 50.

Health care consumers aren’t the only ones who need to learn more about PAD. Because the disease usually has few symptoms, it frequently goes undiagnosed by health professionals. Nurses can find more information about PAD–along with free patient education materials–at
(click on “Diseases & Conditions”).