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Remedies for Peripheral Artery Disease

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Updated September 25, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

What is Peripheral Artery Disease?

Peripheral artery disease (also referred to as "peripheral arterial disease" or "PAD") is a condition marked by a narrowing of the blood vessels outside of your heart. This narrowing results from the buildup of plaque on the walls of the arteries that carry blood to your arms and legs.

PAD often restricts blood flow to the legs, leaving them painful or numb. In severe cases, the lack of blood flow can induce gangrene (tissue death).

People with PAD are known to have an increased risk of death from heart attack and stroke.

What Causes It?

Although the exact cause of PAD is unknown, certain factors may increase your risk for the disease. These include:

Signs and Symptoms of Peripheral Artery Disease

At least half of people with PAD show no signs or symptoms of the disease. In other cases, however, PAD may produce the following signs and symptoms:

  • pain, fatigue, or burning in your feet, calves and/or thighs (especially during exercise, or when walking or climbing stairs)
  • numbness in your legs and/or feet when at rest
  • cramping in the leg(s), buttocks, thighs, calves, and/or feet
  • a pale or bluish color to the skin in the affected area(s)
  • a lower temperature in one leg compared to the other leg
  • decreased nail growth on the toes
  • decreased hair growth on the legs
  • erectile dysfunction, especially among men with diabetes

Treatment for Peripheral Artery Disease

Because PAD is associated with a number of serious health complications (including coronary artery disease and blood clots), it's important to seek medical attention if you have any symptoms of the disease.

Since PAD does not have symptoms in many cases, you should talk to your doctor about getting checked for the disease if you are over age 70, have a history of smoking and/or diabetes, or have diabetes and one or more risk factors for atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in the arteries).

In treating PAD, physicians aim to reduce symptoms and prevent complications. This may include the following lifestyle changes:

  • quitting smoking
  • lowering blood pressure
  • lowering cholesterol
  • lowering blood sugar
  • getting regular exercise

Surgery and certain medications (such as blood pressure drugs and blood thinners) may also be used in treatment of PAD.

Remedies for Peripheral Artery Disease

To date, few studies have explored the use of alternative medicine in treatment of PAD. However, the following natural remedies may be useful in managing or preventing the disease. (Be sure to talk to your doctor before you consider taking any of the following remedies.)

1) Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo biloba (an herb said to stimulate circulation) appears to be more effective than placebo for PAD patients with intermittent claudication (discomfort in the legs that typically occurs with movement and subsides with rest), according to a systematic review published in 2005.

In a 2008 clinical trial involving 62 adults with PAD, researchers found that treatment with ginkgo biloba produced a "modest but insignificant increase" in widening of the blood vessels.

2) Vitamin D

Running low on vitamin D may increase your risk for PAD, according to a study published in 2008. Analyzing data on 4,839 adults, researchers found that PAD was 64 percent more common in study members with the lowest vitamin D levels compared with those with the highest levels of vitamin D.

Sources:

Gardner CD, Taylor-Piliae RE, Kiazand A, Nicholus J, Rigby AJ, Farquhar JW. "Effect of Ginkgo biloba (EGb 761) on treadmill walking time among adults with peripheral artery disease: a randomized clinical trial." J Cardiopulm Rehabil Prev. 2008 28(4):258-65.

Melamed ML, Muntner P, Michos ED, Uribarri J, Weber C, Sharma J, Raggi P. "Serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels and the prevalence of peripheral arterial disease: results from NHANES 2001 to 2004." Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2008 28(6):1179-85.

Pittler MH, Ernst E. "Complementary therapies for peripheral arterial disease: systematic review." Atherosclerosis. 2005 181(1):1-7.

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