For decades, peripheral artery disease (PAD) has been felt to be a more common problem for men than women; however, a new study points to just the opposite. According to UCLA Health System, peripheral artery disease is the result of atherosclerosis in the leg arteries. The plaque formation decreases blood flow, which can damage nerves and other tissues. Exercising the legs—or even walking—can cause pain from the inadequate circulation.
The new information was presented in a statement by the American Heart Association (AHA) entitled: “Call to action: Women and peripheral artery disease.” It was published online on February 15, 2012 in the journal Circulation. The report notes that certain health facts are now evident. It explains that women suffer the consequences of PAD at rates at least as high as those observed in men. However, gender-based medical research regarding PAD in older women has not been conducted. One reason for this discrepancy is that similar to coronary heart disease (CHD), the symptoms of PAD are more subtle than in men. The scientific statement notes that women are now more aware of the signs of CHD. The goal of the statement is to educate both clinicians and women of the signs of symptoms of PAD in women. To prepare the report, the researchers used data from the Cardiovascular Health Study (1992-1993; 5,635 subjects), the Multi-Ethnic Study (2001-2003; 6,814 subjects), the National Health Examination Survey (1999-2002; 4,814 subjects), the San Diego PAD (1972-1976; 602 subjects), the San Diego Population Study (1994-1998; 2,343 subjects), and the Strong Heart Study (1989-1992; 4,276 subjects). Inclusion criteria for the studies were: (1) They evaluated both men and women; and (2) PAD was determined objectively by measurement of blood flow at the ankle (the ankle-brachial index).
The researcher found that PAD increased with age for both men and women. However, they also evaluated the population burden of PAD (defined as the total number of individuals who have PAD). They found that among US adults, more women suffered from the condition than men. They also reported that women (and particularly African American women) were more likely than men to experience graft failure, loss of leg function, or limb loss. (Graft failure refers to the failure of a replacement graft placed in the leg to restore circulation.) They also noted that cardiovascular mortality, all-cause mortality, and major coronary event rates by gender have not been well defined in population-based studies.
Both men and women are at higher risk for PAD if they have:
- Elevated cholesterol
- Heart disease (coronary artery disease)
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Kidney disease involving hemodialysis
- A history of smoking