Ways Peripheral Artery Disease Can Affect Your Work

A few years ago, Dale Smith was unable to walk more than 10 or 15 steps at work before pain in her legs and toes forced her to sit and rest. As the assistant manager of a grocery store in Beebe, AR, this was a big deal. “I have to constantly walk on the ground,” says Smith, now 61.

After a visit to her cardiologist, after having had a heart attack a year earlier, Smith learned that she had peripheral arterial disease (PAD), a narrowing of the arteries that occurs mainly in the legs. She had angioplasty in an artery in her leg and started taking pain and cholesterol medication.

Recently, Smith’s smartwatch told her that she had painlessly walked 15,000 steps and kept a job she loved.

“I’m grateful to have a really good boss who got it right and told me to take as many breaks as I needed,” she says. “But I used to worry if I could keep working.”

If you are diagnosed with PAD, your doctor will give you lots of information about exercise programs, diet, and medications. Making the PAD treatment right for your job may be less of a topic of discussion. Even though PAD typically affects people in their 50s or older, it can leave a decade or more of work for people like Dale Smith to consider.

“PAD is all about lifestyle adjustment and work is an integral part of everyone’s life,” says Damon Pierce, MD, vascular surgeon for Virginia Mason Franciscan Health in greater Seattle.

Pierce had a PAD patient, an auto mechanic, who worked for 20 years in a store with bonuses based on speed of work. Over time, competing with younger mechanics in a physically strenuous job that required him to enter and exit tight spaces under cars, the mechanic’s leg cramps related to the PAD worsened. But he was able to negotiate a less intense workload physically. Yet continued stress at work eventually led him to resign for a supervisory position in a new store with a less demanding pace.

Typical symptoms of PAD – pain or cramps in the legs, hips or buttocks; difficulty walking; sores or ulcers on legs or feet that do not heal – not always severe enough to require a job change. But discomfort can affect productivity. It’s a good idea to initiate adjustments that help keep you comfortable and pain-free.

Make sure your working life matches the treatment plan provided by your doctor. You may need to ask your employer to make accommodations.

Adjust your work routine

To help you manage your PAD at work, here are the recommendations from several doctors:

Take the time to exercise. A 10 minute walk is not the kind of exercise that helps manage your PAD. Instead, combine part of your lunch hour with another break that allows for a vigorous, beneficial hour-long walk, suggests Pierce.

Take mental health breaks. Work-related stress increases the risk of hospitalization for PAD, study finds. Plus, “When you’re stressed out, you feel more tired and are less likely to do the exercise that improves blood circulation in your legs,” says Amy Pollak, MD, a cardiologist at Mayo Clinic Florida in Jacksonville and a volunteer activist. for the American Cardiovascular Association.

That’s why Pierce recommends taking mental breaks during the work day to relieve stress. Use this time to meditate or just walk around the building. Even a few minutes from work helps.

Stay warm. Colder temperatures interfere with blood flow to your legs and arms. Dress to stay warm at work, outdoors, or indoors. And don’t hesitate to ask to increase the thermostat in the office.

Pay attention to your diet. If you are dining out, look for low-fat, low-salt choices on restaurant menus. If your building’s cafeteria is running out of heart-healthy foods, ask them if they can add more.

Think about the quality of the air. Avoid areas where coworkers gather for cigarette breaks. And avoid prolonged exposure to work environments with poor air quality.

Invest in good shoes. If your job requires a lot of walking or driving, you should buy comfortable and durable shoes with strong soles.

Request accommodations in the workplace

You may not want to change jobs just because you are managing PAD. But that doesn’t mean you have to shut up and pretend nothing has changed.

“You want to be honest with your employer about what is going on, that you are following a prescribed treatment plan,” says Pierce.

He often writes a letter to his PAD patients to give to their supervisors, explaining what the treatment is and how they can stay productive with the company’s help.

You may need to ask for flexibility to balance your work out with your PAD treatment. Here are some possible scenarios:

  1. Request a change of tasks if your job involves periods of intense physical activity or requires heavy lifting. According to Pierce, sitting at a desk for hours usually doesn’t increase your risk unless your PAD is advanced.
  2. Work overtime or request extensions if the PAD tires you out. “You have to be honest if it will take you longer to complete a task,” Pollak says.
  3. Request time off for doctor’s appointments at varying times.

You might be nervous about asking your boss for flexibility. But remember, you may have the legal right to request reasonable accommodation if your doctor certifies that your PAD has become a disability. Federal Americans with Disabilities Act provides this right if your business employs 15 or more people and the PAD “severely limits” your ability to perform your duties in today’s environment.

Take sick leave

Despite your best efforts, the symptoms of PAD may require you to take time off work. Using your paid vacation and authorized sick leave will be your first option.

But what if you’ve already burned those days for this year?

Remember that under the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), you can request up to 12 weeks per year of unpaid leave. You must have worked for at least one year in a company that employs 50 or more people to be eligible.

You cannot be fired or deprived of your old job for taking unpaid medical leave. And the company can’t stop paying its share of your health insurance. Nonetheless, it is recommended that you give your employer at least 30 days’ notice if you can and explain exactly why you need the time off. You will need to provide a letter from your doctor if your employer requests it.

Using disability insurance

The leg pain associated with PAD may get to the point where you cannot continue to work. In his line Blue book manual, the Social Security Administration recognizes PAD as a “cardiovascular impairment” and a potential disability. This means that you may be eligible for disability benefits to help cover your living expenses.

But just saying you experience pain or strenuous walking due to PAD will not be enough to achieve these benefits. You will need to see a doctor to get imaging tests on your blood vessels and blood pressure readings from your ankles or toes, and then provide the results. You may want to hire a lawyer who specializes in disability claims.

Make it all work together

The pain and discomfort of PAD can create challenges for your professional life. But there are approaches that help you enjoy a rewarding career when managing PAD. Make sure you make improvements to your working conditions and don’t hesitate to ask for help. You deserve to feel rewarded with your professional life.

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