If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, your physician has likely provided guidelines to help you manage the disease. Diet, activity, and proper medication are all important aspects of keeping your glucose levels under control, but there is another reason to start following doctor’s orders: preventing the development of peripheral arterial disease (PAD), which is when the arteries leading to areas of the body, most commonly the legs and feet, become clogged and hinder blood flow.
PAD Risk Factors
Aside from smokers, people with diabetes have the greatest risk of developing PAD because they already experience reduced blood flow to the feet and legs. The American Diabetes Association reports that 1 out of every 3 people with diabetes over the age of 50 have PAD. Why is this cause for alarm? Because people with PAD have a risk of heart attack or stroke four to five times greater than the average person – as if diabetes alone wasn’t enough to worry about!
Because diabetics are at a higher risk for developing PAD, it’s important to minimize other risk factors that lead to the disease. For starters, you need to be especially vigilant to ensure your blood sugar levels stay within a safe range. Also, if you smoke, it is highly recommended you quit immediately. Other risk factors include:
- Being overweight/obese
- Not getting enough exercise
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol (LDL)
- Family history of heart disease, stroke or PAD
- A preexisting history of coronary artery disease or stroke
If you are diabetic, but haven’t been diagnosed with PAD, don’t assume you are in the clear. Many people don’t show symptoms at all. Others don’t associate their symptoms with anything serious. For example, if you experience even minor leg pain or trouble walking, it’s not necessarily just a sign of old age – it could be an indication of PAD. Other warning signs to pay attention to: if you feel numbness or tingling in your lower legs, your feet are always cold, or you have a wound in the area that isn’t healing well. Even if you are asymptomatic, if you haven’t assessed your individual risks with your physician, it’s a good idea to ask at your next check-up.
Keeping an eye on your symptoms and staying in control of the aforementioned risk factors can help reduce your chances of developing PAD or – if you’ve already been diagnosed – slow its progression and reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke.
Again, your best defense is to keep your glucose levels at a normal level. A healthy diet plays a big role here, and it will help diminish other risk factors, such as being overweight and having high cholesterol. In addition, get committed to regular physical activity. Keep in mind: due to the existing issues with your feet and limbs, you may need to wear special footwear and/or hosiery to aid in circulation, so it’s important to check with your physician before starting any new physical exercise regimen. When combined with the right medication, these efforts will go a long way in the management of your diabetes and the prevention of PAD.