Written March 29, 2024Encino Vascular Institute

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) and diabetes mellitus are two prevalent health conditions that often coexist, and their interplay can significantly impact an individual’s health and quality of life. In this comprehensive exploration, we delve into the nature of peripheral artery disease, the complexities of diabetes, and the intricate relationship between these two conditions.

What is peripheral artery disease?

Peripheral artery disease, commonly called PAD, is a circulatory condition characterized by the narrowing or blockage of arteries, primarily in the legs and sometimes in the arms. This narrowing restricts blood flow to the extremities, leading to symptoms such as leg pain, cramping, numbness, and weakness. Left untreated, PAD can progress to critical stages where it significantly impedes mobility and increases the risk of complications such as non-healing wounds and even limb amputation.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus, often called diabetes, is a metabolic disorder characterized by high blood glucose (sugar) levels. This occurs due to insufficient insulin production (Type 1 diabetes) or the body’s ineffective use of insulin (Type 2 diabetes). Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps regulate blood sugar levels and allows cells to utilize glucose for energy. When insulin function is impaired, glucose accumulates in the bloodstream, leading to various complications affecting multiple organs and systems in the body.

How are diabetes and PAD related?

The relationship between diabetes and PAD is multifaceted. Individuals with diabetes are at a significantly higher risk of developing PAD compared to those without diabetes. This heightened risk is attributed to several factors, including:

Atherosclerosis: Both diabetes and PAD are associated with atherosclerosis, a condition characterized by the buildup of plaque (comprised of cholesterol, fat, and other substances) within the arteries. In diabetes, high blood sugar levels can accelerate the development of atherosclerosis, further narrowing the arteries and exacerbating PAD symptoms.

Impaired vascular function: Diabetes contributes to endothelial dysfunction, which impairs the normal function of blood vessels. This dysfunction reduces blood flow to the extremities, exacerbating the symptoms of PAD and increasing the risk of complications such as non-healing wounds and infections.

Risk factors for Type 2 diabetes and PAD

Several shared risk factors contribute to the development of both Type 2 diabetes and PAD:

Obesity: Excess weight, particularly abdominal obesity, is a significant risk factor for both conditions. Obesity contributes to insulin resistance, a hallmark of Type 2 diabetes, and also increases the risk of atherosclerosis and PAD.

High blood pressure: Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is common in individuals with Type 2 diabetes and is also a risk factor for PAD. Elevated blood pressure accelerates the progression of atherosclerosis and further impairs vascular function.

High cholesterol: Dyslipidemia, characterized by elevated LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and reduced HDL cholesterol, is prevalent in diabetes and PAD. High cholesterol levels promote plaque formation within the arteries, exacerbating arterial narrowing and increasing the risk of complications.

Complications of diabetes and PAD

The coexistence of diabetes and PAD significantly increases the risk of complications and adverse health outcomes. Some of the potential complications include:

Non-healing wounds: Poor circulation resulting from PAD combined with impaired wound healing in diabetes can lead to the formation of chronic wounds, particularly in the lower extremities. These wounds are prone to infection and can progress to more severe complications such as gangrene, necessitating amputation.

Peripheral neuropathy: Diabetes often causes peripheral neuropathy, a condition characterized by nerve damage in the extremities. Peripheral neuropathy can mask the symptoms of PAD, leading to delayed diagnosis and treatment.

Cardiovascular complications: Both diabetes and PAD are independent risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke. The combination of these conditions further increases the risk of adverse cardiovascular events and mortality.

Making lifestyle changes can help both diabetes and PAD

Fortunately, many lifestyle modifications can effectively manage both diabetes and PAD and reduce the risk of complications. These lifestyle changes include:

Regular exercise: Physical activity improves circulation, reduces insulin resistance, and helps control blood sugar levels. For individuals with PAD, supervised exercise programs tailored to their abilities can improve walking distance and alleviate symptoms.

Healthy diet: A balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can help control blood sugar levels, manage weight, and lower cholesterol levels. Limiting intake of processed foods, sugary beverages, and high-fat foods is essential for both diabetes and PAD management.

Smoking cessation: Smoking is a significant risk factor for both diabetes and PAD and exacerbates their complications. Quitting smoking can improve circulation, reduce inflammation, and lower the risk of cardiovascular events.

Extra precautions for diabetics

People with diabetes require extra vigilance in managing their PAD to prevent complications. Some additional precautions include:

Regular foot care: Individuals with diabetes should inspect their feet daily for any cuts, sores, or signs of infection. Proper foot hygiene, wearing comfortable shoes, and avoiding prolonged periods of sitting or standing can help prevent foot ulcers and other diabetic foot complications.

Regular medical check-ups: Routine medical evaluations, including blood pressure monitoring, blood sugar testing, and lipid profile assessments, are essential for monitoring the progression of diabetes and PAD and adjusting treatment as needed.

Medication adherence: Strict adherence to prescribed medications, including insulin or oral antidiabetic drugs, antiplatelet agents, and cholesterol-lowering medications, is crucial for managing diabetes and PAD and reducing the risk of complications.

Schedule an appointment today.

If you have diabetes or are at risk of PAD, it is essential to prioritize your vascular health and seek timely medical care. Schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider to discuss screening, diagnosis, and personalized treatment options tailored to your needs. By proactively managing diabetes and PAD and adopting healthy lifestyle habits, you can minimize the impact of these conditions and enjoy a better quality of life.

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