Peripheral Artery Disease and Your Relationships

The first sign of trouble Steve Hamburger from Westlake Village, CA noticed was pain in his legs as he tried to sleep. He later found out that he was suffering from peripheral artery disease (PAD).

Fortunately, his family already knew about PAD – and what it would mean to them.

“I am very fortunate to have a family with a medical / athletic background,” says Hamburger. “My wife has spent her career in the medical field as a radiology manager and my oldest son has spent several years as a paramedic,” Hamburger said. “When I was first diagnosed, my wife understood how PAD could possibly cause me to end up in a wheelchair” if her PAD worsened to the point of requiring an amputation. He credits his wife’s support as a major factor in his lifestyle changes to helping him with his PAD.

But if you don’t have that kind of support, you’ll need to help your loved ones understand the disease and its impact. Here’s how.

“A heart attack of the legs”

Although common, many people have not heard of PAD, which can make it difficult for people with the disease to explain.

PAD is best compared to a “heart attack of the legs,” says Kym McNicholas, founder of the nonprofit PAD group, The Way To My Heart in California. McNichols, who doesn’t have a PA herself, says it’s like having a tourniquet tied around your legs every day.

PAD affects circulation in the lower legs because plaque builds up to a point where blood flow is constricted or cut off. Symptoms can include leg pain, cramps, and numbness. You can have ulcers on your feet or toes that don’t heal due to a lack of blood flow to carry key nutrients, including oxygen to help nourish tissue.

When you walk, you start to feel a tightness in your calf, McNicholas says. “Most [you] walking, the tightness turns into cramps, which [you] can also feel in [your] thighs and butt, ”says McNicholas. If you keep walking, you could possibly feel what appears to be the worst “charley horse” you’ve ever had, she says.

‘Please be patient with me’

The pain caused by PAD can be severe. It can also affect your mood. Mentally and emotionally, having a chronic illness can be exhausting.

McNicholas recommends saying this to loved ones: “Please be patient and understanding with me when I appear depressed or upset. It probably has nothing to do with you and is just inherent in this pathological process. “

Having people who support you and understand the disease and its treatment can make a big difference in the quality of life for someone with PAD.

Set healthy boundaries

It can help let people know how you feel about certain issues and activities – what you are or are not comfortable talking about or doing.

“Patients have the right to decide what they want to share about their condition and who they want to share it with,” says Georgian psychotherapist Samuel Jones, LCSW. “Plus, being aware of your limitations and prioritizing how you spend your energy and time is essential to building a fulfilling life while living with chronic illness. “

Boundaries can help you emotionally and also let people know what you can and cannot do physically. Take walking, for example. It dramatically improves blood flow to the legs, helping to relieve pain caused by PAD. But you might not be able to walk as far as a person without PAD. So it’s important that loved ones understand these limitations, says Ohio cardiologist John Phillips, MD, creator of the Save My Piggies podcast, dedicated to people with PAD. (“Save my pigs” is a reference to avoid amputation.)

“When there are family gatherings or trips, sometimes patients need more time to get there and this can slow down the group,” says Philips. “If the patient has a walking partner, they are more likely to walk regularly, and I have found that a loved one can be a very good walking partner for these people.”

What to look for

Family and friends of people with PAD take on the important role of gatekeepers. Monitoring the person and noticing if their activity level has changed is essential to helping your loved one cope with PAD. Phillips recommends watching for changes in exercise, walking habits, and mood.

“Patients with worsening PAD often become less active and, in some cases, immobile. This can ultimately lead to wounds that don’t heal, worsening obesity and… depression, ”says Phillips. “Family members and friends should be on the lookout for significant changes in activity levels and check their loved ones for PAD weekly.”

Showing support goes a long way for those who have been diagnosed with PAD. Going to doctor’s appointments and participating in the treatment process are easy ways to show your love and support.

“Instead of focusing on what I can’t do, help me find things that I can do and even that we can do together,” McNicholas says.

Hamburger was able to live a healthy life despite his PAD. By establishing a balanced exercise program and taking the right medications to avoid surgery, he is comfortable with his lifestyle.

“Loved ones can help strengthen an exercise program and maintain an appropriate diet,” Hamburger said. “As well as if PAD worsens, make sure you are in good vascular medical hands and avoid amputation by all physical and medical means.”

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