Approximately nine million Americans over the age of 50 are living with a disease that affects their legs and raises their risk of having a heart attack. Unfortunately, many with the disease do not even know they have it. February is Heart Month, and the Vascular Disease Foundation and its P.A.D. Coalition are urging Americans to listen to their legs and be alert to the signs of peripheral arterial disease, or P.A.D.

P.A.D. occurs when arteries in the legs become narrowed or clogged with fatty deposits, reducing blood flow to the legs. This can result in leg muscle pain when walking, disability, amputation, and poor quality of life. If you have blocked arteries somewhere in the body, you are likely to have them elsewhere. Thus, P.A.D. is a red flag that other arteries, including those in the heart, are likely affected - increasing the risk of a heart disease, heart attack and even death.

In many, P.A.D. is a silent disease, causing no recognizable symptoms. People with P.A.D. may have one or more of the following symptoms:

- "Claudication" - fatigue, heaviness, tiredness or cramping in the leg muscles (calf, thigh or buttocks) that occurs during activity such as walking and goes away with rest.

- Foot or toe pain at rest that often disturbs sleep

- Skin wounds or ulcers on the feet or toes that are slow to heal (or that do not heal for 8 to 12 weeks).

"Often, people think leg discomfort or slow healing sores are just a part of aging, yet they can be signs of a serious disease," stated Joseph Caporusso, DPM, Chair of the P.A.D. Coalition. "Through early detection and proper treatment, we can reduce the devastating consequences of P.A.D. and improve the nation's cardiovascular health."

Everyone over age 50 is at risk for P.A.D., and your risk increases if you:

- Smoke, or used to smoke
- Have diabetes
- Have high blood pressure
- Have abnormal blood cholesterol
- Are African American
- Have a personal history of coronary heart disease or stroke

The screening test for P.A.D. is called the ankle-brachial index, a painless, non-invasive test that compares the blood pressure in the ankles with the blood pressure in the arms. National medical guidelines recommend that certain individuals be tested for P.A.D., including:

- Adults under 50 years of age with diabetes and at least one other risk factor such as a history of smoking, abnormal cholesterol or high blood pressure
- Adults aged 50 years or older with diabetes or a history of smoking
- Adults aged 70 years or older
- Adults with one or more symptoms of P.A.D.

Source: Vascular Disease Foundation