02:21pm Saturday 28 March 2020

Updated Guideline Promotes Better Management of Peripheral Artery Disease

This guideline includes expanded criteria for using the ankle-brachial index (ABI) for earlier diagnosis, increased efforts to ensure all patients have access to smoking cessation services, improved use of clot-preventing medications, as well as a more focused definition of effective interventions for avoiding limb amputations and treating aortic aneurysms.

“This document provides agreed upon approaches and treatments for PAD that vascular surgeons, vascular medicine specialists, cardiologists, pulmonologists, interventional radiologists and primary care clinicians can apply to help improve patient care,” said Thom Rooke, MD, Krehbiel Professor of Vascular Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN, and chair of the writing group. “This guideline is especially important for PAD, which is often still treated less aggressively than heart disease, and we know that many patients do not yet receive ideal care.”

Of note, the guideline includes a recommendation to lower the age at which ABI diagnostic testing should be performed in the practice setting from 70 years of age or older to 65 years of age or older. This decision was based on mounting evidence demonstrating that people 65 and older have a one in five chance of having either symptomatic or asymptomatic PAD. 

“Age alone appears to define a patient population at such a high risk of PAD that we can justify using a cost-effective and risk-free test like the ABI,” said Dr. Rooke. “It’s important to remember, when we check ABI to detect PAD in a patient without clear-cut leg symptoms, it is known that we are effectively assessing overall heart and vascular health. If PAD is detected, effective risk reduction medications are available to lower this risk.”

Some of the other recommendations set forth by the writing group include:

  • Strengthening efforts to help individuals with PAD quit smoking and, in turn, lower rates of heart attack, stroke and lower limb amputations; this includes consistently asking current and former smokers about tobacco use at each visit, as well as proactively offering support through counseling, pharmacologic therapies and/or formal smoking cessation programs.
  • Considering leg artery angioplasty as a first line treatment for certain individuals with severe PAD who may face amputation.
  • Understanding new data showing that aortic aneurysms can be safely treated by both traditional open surgical and less invasive endovascular (catheter-based) treatments with nearly equal efficacy and safety.

“When PAD is undetected and poorly managed, it is among the most costly cardiovascular diseases. Delays in care and inadequate use of proven risk reduction therapies continue to put lives at stake,” said Alan T. Hirsch, MD, Professor of Medicine, Epidemiology and Community Health in the Lillehei Heart Institute and Cardiovascular Division, University of Minnesota Medical School, and vice chair of the writing group. “While there have been progressive improvements in PAD care, it appears that even simple ‘interventions,’ like appropriate prescription of smoking cessation and exercise are not utilized by clinicians, health care systems, and payers. We still have a long way to go; the opportunity for prevention and earlier, life-saving interventions is immense. This guideline provides a road map.”

He added that additional promotion of guideline use by hospital and health systems would be expected to lead to major improvements in clinical outcomes. 

Read the Guideline Update

Background on PAD

Peripheral artery disease is a common and dangerous condition that affects tens of millions of Americans — often unknowingly — and can restrict blood flow to the legs, kidneys or other vital organs. PAD, which remains underdiagnosed, is often a sign of a more widespread accumulation of fatty deposits in the heart, brain or legs and, if untreated, it is one of the most common causes of preventable heart attack, stroke, leg amputations and death.

PAD restricts blood flow to the extremities, especially the legs and feet. When blood flow is reduced to the legs, walking may become difficult and painful, and amputation can occur. Decreased kidney blood flow can cause high blood pressure or kidney failure. Aneurysms of the aorta, the largest artery, can rupture and lead to death. Yet, for many, PAD is asymptomatic and therefore may not lead to recognizable symptoms, delaying a prompt diagnosis.

PAD patient education materials at SecondsCount.org

To expand knowledge of PAD, SCAI welcomed PAD Awareness Month with newly updated, user-friendly content on PAD and renal artery stenosis on www.SecondsCount.org. The new content features easy-to-follow information on the symptoms of PAD, its implications for heart attack and stroke risk, diagnostic and treatment options, stories of successfully treated PAD patients, and handy tools. SCAI encourages healthcare providers to visit the site and recommend it to patients.

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