When blood sugar levels fluctuate or stay high too long, people with diabetes are at risk of developing peripheral arterial disease (PAD). When the blood vessels located away from the heart get damaged or blocked, peripheral arterial disease occurs and affects the arteries in your arms/hands and legs/feet. Discover more about peripheral arterial disease and what you can do to help prevent it.
- Know the symptoms of PAD and communicate them to your health care team immediately. People with PAD might get pain in the buttocks and extremities including the calves and thighs. They may experience heaviness in the limbs, numbness in the legs or feet and a blue tint to the toes. They might get cold feet, leg cramps and foot pain as well as skin redness, wounds on the feet or toes that won’t heal and frequent infections. People over 50, African-Americans, smokers and people with diabetes have an increased risk of developing peripheral arterial disease.
- PAD happens when plaque builds up and creates a blockage in your blood vessels. This prevents the blood from flowing properly. Plaque is made up of cholesterol and fatty substances. PAD is worsened by high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and ongoing high glucose levels as well as smoking. A healthy lifestyle is crucial to prevent and treat peripheral arterial disease.
- Reduce the fat and sodium in your daily diet. Avoid preserved, packaged and fast foods. Opt for lean meats and fish, low-fat dairy and whole grains along with lots of vegetables and fruit. Losing just 5-10 percent of your body weight can reduce the risks associated with diabetes and heart disease. Get rid of bad cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) in your diet by avoiding foods such as processed meats and butter. Elevated LDL may be related to family history so check with your physician. Add more HDL cholesterol to your diet with foods such as olive oil, salmon and wheat germ.
- Get at least 30 minutes of exercise each day. Take a brisk walk or go jogging around the local track. Join a gym, invest in exercise equipment for your home or enroll in an aerobics class at your local community center. Play with the children in your family and do yard work. Keep moving to improve your circulation, boost cardiovascular health and burn calories. If you smoke, it’s time to quit. Reduce the stress in your life. Get at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
- Take diabetes medications as prescribed by your doctor. Monitor your blood sugar and blood pressure levels each day. If necessary, take medication to keep cholesterol and blood pressure at healthy levels. Talk to your doctor about a meal plan and treatment plan. Work with other professionals such as a nurse practitioner, nutritionist and physical therapist.
- Inspect your feet and skin regularly. Look for dryness, blisters and wounds as well as sores, redness and infections. Visit a podiatrist regularly to ensure optimum foot health and minimize the complications associated with peripheral arterial disease. Wear diabetes socks which may aid the circulation in your feet. They are made from breathable materials that do not have seams that could irritate your feet. Always wear shoes including slippers at home and water shoes at the beach or pool. Avoid open shoes such as flip-flops. Opt for flat shoes that fit properly. Have your feet measured to get the proper fit.
- If you have diabetes and your family has a history of heart disease, let your doctor know about it. Report irregularities to your doctor immediately including fluctuating blood sugar levels, increased blood pressure and numbness in your limbs and feet. Early detection can prevent serious health complications.
Be aware of the symptoms of peripheral arterial disease and discuss them with your health care team. Eat a healthy diet, get plenty of exercise and lose weight to ward off the disease. A few positive lifestyle changes can go a long way.