Many may think that cardiovascular diseases (CVD) primarily affect men. However, they are just as prevalent in women as they are in men. One type of disease that affects your cardiovascular system, Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD), is no exception to this. According to recent studies, cardiovascular disease and PAD are higher in women than they are in men (1, 2, 3, 4). Women are actually at a greater risk of either misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis, which can be very serious (5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10). PAD is a common problem, yet it often goes undiagnosed.
PAD is when the vessels that carry blood from the heart to the legs become narrower or develop blockages, preventing proper blood flow and circulation throughout the legs and back to the heart (13). This can be incredibly serious if left untreated. Women are more likely to have asymptomatic PAD or atypical symptoms that could incorrectly be attributed to other medical conditions, as opposed to men. Women are also more likely to have PAD alone, without having other cardiovascular diseases (1).
Correctly diagnosing a CVD or PAD, and in a timely manner, is crucial to receiving proper treatment and preventing serious problems. Unfortunately, it is fairly common, both in men and women, for patients to not receive proper treatment of PAD. Studies have found that patients who only have PAD were less likely to receive treatment with either statins, ACE inhibitors, or antiplatelet agents than those with both PAD and CVD (11, 12). Because women more commonly have asymptomatic symptoms and a delayed diagnosis, they are at a greater risk of PAD related morbidity and mortality. The risk is also greater for older women.
There are steps you can take to screen for potential PAD. First, it is critical to talk to your doctor about any symptoms or concerns you have. Knowing the signs and symptoms of PAD can help you try to address it and receive early diagnosis and treatment. One great way to screen for PAD is called the Ankle Brachial Index, or ABI. This test measures the blood pressure at your ankle and at your arm, and then compares the two to see if there is a significant difference. A low ankle brachial index number suggests that you may have narrower arteries or a blockage, which may lead to a PAD diagnosis. Some other symptoms of PAD may include coldness in the leg or foot, numbness or weakness in the leg, painful cramping and skin color changes on the legs (13). Remember, talk to your doctor if you have any concerns or are experiencing any symptoms. Taking the proper steps to recognize symptoms and be careful about your health is the best way to prevent serious issues and stay healthy.
(1) Peripheral Arterial Disease Detection, Awareness, and Treatment in Primary Care https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/194205
(2) A population-based study of peripheral arterial disease prevalence with special focus on critical limb ischemia and sex differences https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17543683
(3) Prevalence and prediction of previously unrecognized peripheral arterial disease in patients with coronary artery disease: The peripheral arterial disease in Interventional Patients Study https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ccd.21969
(4) Particularities of peripheral arterial disease managed in vascular surgery in the French West Indies > https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18391869
(5) Prevalence and correlates of lower extremity arterial disease in elderly womenhttps://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8465807
(6) Women and peripheral arterial disease: same disease, different issues https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18334893
(7) Asymptomatic Peripheral Arterial Disease Is Independently Associated With Impaired Lower Extremity Functioning https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/01.cir.101.9.1007
(8) Arterial vascular disease in women https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17950570
(9) Peripheral Arterial Disease in the Elderly https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/01.atv.18.2.185
(10) Sex differences in peripheral arterial disease: leg symptoms and physical functioning https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12558719
(11) Risk factor profile, management, and prognosis of patients with peripheral arterial disease with or without coronary artery disease: results of the prospective German REACH registry cohort https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19221687
(12) Incidence of peripheral vascular disease in women: is it different from that in men? https://www.jtcvs.org/article/S0022-5223(03)01814-2/fulltext
(13) Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/peripheral-artery-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20350557