Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Doctors aim to increase awareness of peripheral arterial disease

Peripheral arterial disease is one of the most common types of cardiovascular disease - and also one of the least publicized, health officials say.

According to Dr. Robert Wilkins, a board-certified cardiovascular specialist with Southern Heart Center, a service of Hattiesburg Clinic, this lack of awareness could be deadly.

During September, which is "National P.A.D. Awareness Month," Wilkins and his colleagues Drs. Craig Thieling, Ben Rester and Randel Smith, are committed to increasing the public's knowledge of this disease.

P.A.D. affects about 10 million Americans and occurs when the arteries in the legs or other non-heart arteries become narrowed or clogged by fatty deposits or plaque. The buildup of plaque causes arteries to harden and narrow, a process called atherosclerosis. When leg arteries are hardened and clogged, blood flow to the legs and feet is reduced.

The most common type of P.A.D. is the extertional leg pain, burning or tightness known as "claudication."

When not diagnosed and treated early, this may lead to a severe decrease in leg blood flow, a condition known as "critical leg ischemia," a condition that can result in a possible amputation.

P.A.D. is a warning sign that other arteries in the body, including those in the heart and brain, may also be blocked.

This condition is associated with a high risk of heart attack, stroke and death.

Unfortunately, many people may not recognize their leg pain symptoms as P.A.D.

"People were not aware of the risk factors for this disease, the increased risk for heart attack and stroke associated with this disease, or simple diagnostic tests which can identify this disease," Wilkins said. "In addition, many people are not aware of the numerous non-surgical, minimally invasive treatment options for this disease."

Southern Heart Center has now developed a special P.A.D. treatment team including: cardiovascular medicine physicians and endovascular specialists, acute care nurse practitioners, physician assistants and nurses.

Southern Heart Center also has a number of events scheduled throughout September to increase public awareness of P.A.D.

These events include speaking to senior and civic organizations, presenting at Forrest General Hospital's Spirit of Women luncheon, and working with primary care providers in this region.

The center also will sponsor three vascular disease screening events. The screenings will be provided in Hattiesburg, Picayune and Magee.

"Our cardiovascular physicians have made themselves available to speak to any organization which wants to learn more about this very serious but often treatable disease" said Ken Smith, Southern Heart Center's administrator. "They are very passionate about the need to increase public awareness of the diagnosis and treatment of peripheral arterial disease."

For more information, visit or call Southern Heart Center at 268-5800.

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