DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Please explain peripheral vascular disease. I have never heard of it, and neither have people I have asked. — C.D.
ANSWER: Peripheral vascular disease also goes by the name peripheral artery disease. Have you seen the TV ad where the young boy and his grandmother are walking through a store where there’s a display on peripheral artery disease? The boy asks his grandmother if she has it. It’s extremely common. It’s the leg’s equivalent of heart artery disease. Both have to do with arteries clogged with plaque — a buildup of cholesterol, fat and other materials.
Pain on walking is the prominent symptom of this illness. The pain occurs because the working leg muscles aren’t getting enough blood. They complain by sending pain signals. Calf pain is common when the obstruction to blood flow is in a thigh artery. Stopping and resting relieves the pain.
High blood pressure, a family history of this condition, a family history of heart disease, smoking, diabetes and increased cholesterol all contribute to it. The most important contributor is aging.
The family doctor can detect peripheral artery disease by noting a decreased pulse at the ankle. Greater evidence is obtained by comparing ankle blood pressure to arm blood pressure. The two should be equal. If ankle pressure is lower than arm pressure, the reason is a blockage in leg artery blood flow.
Treatment is similar to treatment for obstructed heart arteries. Affected people have to lower their cholesterol, lower their body weight, lower their blood pressure, stop smoking, control blood sugar and stay active by walking to the point of pain, resting and then continuing to walk. Doctors usually also must prescribe medicines to lower cholesterol and to facilitate the passage of blood through narrowed arteries.
Sometimes an operation on the clogged artery is necessary. Often this can be done with a catheter that has a balloon tip. The catheter is threaded to the point of obstruction and inflated to open up the artery. Then a stent — a metal device — is placed to keep the artery dilated.
The booklet on peripheral vascular disease gives the details of the illness and its treatments. Readers can obtain a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue — No. 109W, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6 Canada with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: What can you tell me about medical foods? My doctor has put me on Limbrel to treat my osteoarthritis. He says it’s safe and has few side effects. After five days of use, I feel much better. — F.G.
ANSWER: Medical foods are foods that are more than nutrients. They have a place in the management of some illnesses. Limbrel, for example, contains flavonoids. These compounds act as antioxidants, neutralizing the harmful byproducts of cell chemistry. They also soothe inflammation like swollen, achy arthritic joints. I like the way Limbrel is marketed. It’s available only through prescriptions and without a huge amount of hype. I can’t say everyone gets the same results you did. Stick with it if it’s working for you.
Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.
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