How Diabetes Affects PAD
Diabetes and peripheral artery disease (PAD) can both have serious consequences for people who suffer from them, specifically in the legs and feet. It's fair then to wonder if these conditions can affect one another, and if there is anything those suffering from one or the other should be aware of in case their condition worsens. In this article, we'll go over:
- How does diabetes affect the body?
- How does PAD affect the body?
- How do these conditions affect one another?
- What can you do to stay as healthy as possible?
How does diabetes affect the body?
Diabetes is a condition in which there is too much glucose in the blood. Typically, the body makes insulin to get glucose from the bloodstream into the cells that need it. In a diabetic, however, the body is either not making enough insulin or not making it at all. In type 1 diabetes, the body isn't making any insulin and is usually diagnosed in children. Type 1 diabetics have to take insulin every day. In type 2 diabetes the body is either not making enough insulin or not processing it properly. Type 2 is the most common and can be developed at any stage in life, but is usually found in older people or those suffering from obesity.
Without insulin, glucose levels build up to dangerous levels. When there is too much glucose in the blood, some of the results can include stroke, kidney disease, eye issues, nerve damage, heart disease, and — most relevant to this article — problems with the feet.
Foot problems in diabetics
There are two major foot problems that diabetics need to be aware of. The first is neuropathy, in which the person loses feeling in their feet. This is especially dangerous because sores and lesions can form and cause damage without the diabetic ever knowing. This can have severe mobility issues that can ultimately lead to the need for amputation if left untreated.
The second major issue is that poorly-managed diabetes can actually lead to PAD — this is how the two diseases are connected.
Poorly-managed diabetes can actually lead to PAD
How does diabetes lead to PAD?
First, it's helpful to understand what PAD is. Peripheral artery disease occurs when blood vessels constrict or are narrowed, which leads to a reduced blood flow to the limbs. While in some rare cases this can happen in the arms, it is almost always found in the legs due to them being lowest to the ground.
When blood vessels are clogged, it can lead to increased blood pressure and higher risk of stroke and heart attacks. If blood can't get to the feet specifically, it can cause cells to start to die off and cause the same neuropathy mentioned above.
Diabetes makes people more susceptible to PAD because of the effects elevated glucose levels have on the arteries themselves. Too much glucose in the blood can make arteries walls rough, which makes it easier for arterial plaque to stick to them and build up. This is complicated by the fact that many people who suffer from type 2 diabetes are overweight, which puts additional strain on arteries by pressuring them with excess fat and elevated levels of cholesterol in the blood.
What to do if you are pre-diabetic
Prediabetes is a term used to describe people with elevated glucose levels that don't yet meet the qualifications for type 2 diabetes. In this case it is still very possible to get glucose levels under control to prevent the condition from worsening. It's important to do everything you can to make sure you are keeping your arteries in healthy conditions.
One way to reduce your odds of developing PAD is eating heart-healthy foods. These are foods that are high in "good cholesterol", which actively removes plaque from your arteries. They also have the benefit of being low in sugar, which won't contribute to the elevated levels of glucose in your system. Examples of heart-healthy foods include whole grains, leafy vegetables, fatty fish and several different varieties of nuts.
It's equally important to get regular exercise. Staying active reduces the amount of fat in your body, which releases pressure on strained arteries. It also strengthens your heart and your lungs, which are responsible for getting oxygen into your blood and moving that blood to the parts of your body that need it.
How to assess your risk for diabetes and PAD
There are two different tests that can be done to check your risk for developing either diabetes or PAD.
The A1C Screening
The A1c test measures the amount of glucose in your blood from the last 2-3 months. This test involves taking a small blood sample that can then be run by a lab. Based on the results, patients can be diagnosed as healthy, prediabetic or having type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Typically, results can be ready in as little as 24 hours.
For peripheral artery disease, a trained technician can use an ultrasound machine to conduct a PAD screening. These are fast, noninvasive tests where an ultrasound device is used on the leg to check for plaque buildup in the medium and large arteries there. It is painless, noninvasive and can frequently be done in less than 15 minutes. Results are instant as well, since the ultrasound images are displayed on a screen for both the technician and patient to see. Technicians will be able to point out any plaque buildup and give the patient a printout with the results to take to their doctor.
Want to take control of your health?
If you'd like to know where your health stands with regard to diabetes or potential PAD, Life Line Screening offers both of the tests you'll need. Scheduling an appointment is easy, with convenient locations all across the United States. Click below to find the Life Line Screening location closest to you.
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This article has been reviewed by the Life Line Screening clinical team. You can learn more about this team of experts HERE.