Modification in lifestyle can help treat peripheral arterial disease or 'hardening of the arteries' particularly in one's legs, a new study has suggested.
The researchers suggest that lifestyle changes such as smoking cessation, diet and a structured exercise program can help treat the debilitating disease.
"In the early stages of PAD, many patients will have no symptoms at all and often will go undiagnosed," said Aoife Keeling, an interventional radiologist at Northwestern Hospital in Chicago, Ill.
"While this study is useful in examining the possibility of treating PAD earlier, additional research into the factors that cause PAD progression and the rate of progression-along with methods to slow the disease-need to be conducted.
"Prevention of PAD progression is vital and can be achieved with risk factor modification, for example, if individuals stop smoking, watch their diets, lower their cholesterol and have their blood pressure monitored," she added.
PAD occurs when plaque accumulates in arteries that supply blood to areas of the body other than the heart and brain. Since plaque blocks the leg arteries first, PAD is considered a red flag for several life-threatening vascular diseases, such as heart attack and stroke; it can also result in the loss of limb(s).
During the study, researchers recruited 918 patients, who had leg angiograms (an X-ray exam to diagnose arterial blockage and other problems).
Of these, 122 patients (54 percent male, average age 70 years) had an arterial narrowing (50 percent) or blockage without any corresponding leg symptoms, said Keeling. These patients were followed over a maximum of nine years to determine if they developed any symptoms and to see if they required any treatment for their PAD in the form of angioplasty, stenting, surgical bypass or amputation.
One-third of the 122 patients developed symptoms of pain or ulceration and almost half of these then required treatment. Overall, only 13.9 percent of the initial group required treatment, so even though PAD progressed over time, the researchers did not believe they had enough evidence to advocate early minimally invasive treatment of PAD in patients who had no initial symptoms, said Keeling.
The fact that most of the 122 patients remained asymptomatic may be related to the intense risk factor modification they underwent or other factors as yet unidentified, said Keeling.
"We know that many patients have blockages in their leg arteries but may not develop symptoms. We don't know yet what causes symptoms to develop in some but not in others. We are continuing our research in this area," she added.