Many adults in the dark about leg artery disease

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NEW YORK, Sep 25 (Reuters) A survey shows that few people know about peripheral artery disease, or PAD, a dangerous vascular condition that affects roughly 8 million Americans.

PAD occurs when the arteries in the legs become narrowed or clogged with fatty deposits, reducing blood flow to the legs.

This can cause leg pain when walking, disability and poor quality of life. Blocked leg arteries, which can lead to amputation, may be a warning sign that other arteries, including those in the heart and brain, may also be blocked, increasing the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

In a survey of 2501 adults older than 50 years of age, researchers found that only 25 per cent were aware of PAD. By comparison, 74 per cent demonstrated awareness of stroke and 67 per cent knew about heart disease and heart failure.

Adults in the survey were much more aware of relatively rare diseases that affect far fewer people than PAD, such as Lou Gehrig's disease, multiple sclerosis and cystic fibrosis.

Awareness of PAD was low in all sub-groups, including African-Americans, who are at especially high risk for the disease.

Even among people who were aware of PAD, knowledge about the disease was poor. Half of these individuals did not know that diabetes and smoking increase the risk of PAD and less than 1 in 4 knew that PAD is associated with risk of heart attack and stroke. Only about 1 in 7 knew that PAD could lead to leg amputation.

The results of the survey appear in Circulation, the American Heart Association's journal.

''We believe these data ... provide a powerful wake up call to the public, as well as to every health professional and health care system in this nation,'' Dr Alan T Hirsch told Reuters Health.

''The evidence of poor public awareness of PAD -- one of the most common cardiovascular diseases that is associated with high short-term risk to life and limb -- is startling,'' added Hirsch, who is chair of the National PAD Coalition and director of the vascular medicine program at the Minneapolis Heart Institute, Minnesota. ''Ignoring artery disease outside the coronary arteries, despite comparable risk, would be the cardiovascular equivalent of ignoring all cancers outside the brain.'' The findings of this survey, Hirsch added, have ''thankfully highlighted the 'public knowledge gap' in incontrovertible scientific terms. What we don't know can kill us. Thankfully, the public can also now learn how to prevent PAD.'' Hirsch suggests visiting the PAD Coalition website (www.padcoalition.org) and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's 'Stay in Circulation: Take Steps to Learn About P.A.D.' campaign (www.aboutpad.org).'' REUTERS SZ KP0839

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