Don Grove, a retired Navy Master Chief, remembers a time when walking up a slight incline was nearly impossible due to the excruciating pain in his calf muscles. His wife recalls the nights they would go square dancing, and Don had to sit out a dance set due to the pain in his leg. He also had unexplained pain in his toes while lying in bed or resting his feet on an ottoman. As is the case with many people, Don shrugged off the symptoms and considered them to be a natural part of the aging process. His mindset changed after seeing a pharmaceutical advertisement on TV.
“The commercial described my exact symptoms,” said Don. “I realized my pain was not normal, and I made an appointment to see my doctor.”
Don’s physician referred him to a vascular specialist, who told Don he had peripheral artery disease (PAD), a condition in which plaque has built up on the inside walls of the arteries, blocking blood flow to the legs, arms, or other parts of the body. The arteries then cannot supply enough blood to the muscles, causing muscle cramps, tightness, or weakness, especially during activities.
The specialist told Don he had a 65% blockage in the femoral artery in his left leg, but it wasn’t severe enough to warrant the risk of treatment with bypass surgery. He advised Don to come back in a few months. Don planned to continue living with the pain until his podiatrist recommended he seek a second opinion.
He then met Dr. David Jessup, an interventional cardiologist, who told Don an angioplasty procedure could clear the symptomatic blockage in his artery with less risk and recovery time than would be involved with surgery. Dr. Jessup explained the procedure would be performed by threading a catheter, which has a tiny uninflated balloon on the tip, through the groin and into the peripheral artery to the point of the blockage. The balloon would be inflated, pushing the fatty deposits against the inside of the artery walls to make the channel wider. Once the artery was widened, the balloon would be deflated and removed. There would be no cutting, just a needle puncture through the skin.
Soon after his appointment, Don underwent an angioplasty procedure on his left leg. A few months later, the same procedure was performed on his right leg, which also had a blockage in the femoral artery.
Since the angioplasty procedures four years ago, Don has not experienced any leg or toe pain. He now enjoys a mobile and active life bowling in a senior citizen's league, gardening, and enjoying time with his wife and four grandchildren.
Don advises others to talk to their doctor if they experience leg pain instead of assuming “old age” is the culprit.
Approximately 6.5 million people age 40 and older in the United States have PAD. 1 People with PAD may struggle to do many activities of daily living, and they are also at increased risk for heart attack and stroke.