Saturday, December 20, 2008
Get Moving, Avoid Pain and Amputation: Exercise Can Beat Peripheral Arterial Disease
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), about 8 million Americans have the most common form of peripheral vascular disease (PVD) known as peripheral arterial disease, or PAD. The risk of PAD increases as we get older and, by age 65, some 12 to 20 percent of the population has the condition. PAD is caused by deposits of fatty plaques in arteries that interrupts blood flow to the legs. You may have no symptoms of PAD or you can experience sometimes excruciating leg pain that doesn't go away when you finish exercising – the pain, called "intermittent claudication", is caused when plaque prevents muscles from getting an adequate blood supply during exercise. Other symptoms of PAD can include leg or foot wounds that heal slowly or not at all, and a marked decrease in the temperature of one leg compared to the rest of your body.
Finding out if you have PAD is crucial because, undiagnosed and untreated, the condition can lead to gangrene and even amputation. What's more, AHA statistics reveal people that with PAD have a four to five times higher risk of heart attack or stroke. But there's good news: a study just published in The Journal of Physiology concludes regular, moderate exercise can go a long way to eliminate PAD symptoms by some unexpected mechanisms. The new research suggests that exercise triggers the body to naturally solve the problem by expanding and multiplying the surrounding smaller blood vessels in a blocked area and also making blood vessels healthier.
In animal experiments, University of Missouri researchers studied rats with blocked femoral arteries. When the rodents were made to exercise regularly, the scientists found that blood flow increased and was effective in restoring normal muscle function. This wasn't unexpected because, when a major artery in the leg becomes blocked, the body often creates another route for the blood to pass through by expanding and multiplying blood vessels in the area. This is known as collateral blood flow. But the scientists found that exercise appeared to spur the collateral vessels to become larger and less likely to contract – and vascular constriction is known to be a problem with PAD. More unexpected results: the blood vessels downstream from the blockage also went through healthy changes and became more efficient.
Dr. Ronald Terjung, of the University of Missouri's Dalton Cardiovascular Research Center, and other authors of the study stated in a media release they believe a regular exercise program would delay the onset of pain and increase mobility for people suffering with PAD. "Our findings raise the potential that new collateral vessels, that can develop in patients with PAD who are physically active, will function effectively to help minimize the consequences of the original vascular obstruction," Dr. Terjung said in the press statement.