The statistic is a compelling one: within two years of a limb amputation, 40 percent of patients die. But even more compelling is that many, many amputations could be avoided if blockages in peripheral arteries, most notably in the legs and feet, are detected early and opened in time using innovative, minimally invasive technologies.
Peripheral artery blockages in the lower extremities often first reveal themselves as aching, cramping or fatigue of the leg with exertion. Eventually the reduced blood flow can lead to symptoms at rest and sores on feet and legs that don’t heal. When serious tissue disease like gangrene sets in, amputation is often the result.
The new tools that open arteries operate at the end of a thin tube, called a catheter, that doctors feed through arteries to treat the blockage. Depending on the nature of the blockage (from hard to gummy), the physician can open the blockage with balloons and stents, remove the plaque by shaving or sanding it away, or use laser energy to vaporize it.
“What’s so gratifying is that the results are nearly instant,” says Dr. Roberto Corpus, Traverse City's Munson Medical Center’s lead specialist with the new technologies. “The patients are walking the next day better than they have in a long time, and their leg pain is gone and blood flow is restored.”
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What’s more, sores also begin to heal, because the area now has the blood supply that’s needed to nurse the tissue back to health. Corpus is tapping into a national outreach campaign called “Save a Limb, Save a Life” to raise awareness among both patients and physicians about the dangers and widespread occurrence of peripheral artery disease.
If you know of somebody with chronic leg pain, tell them to ask their doctor to screen for peripheral artery disease by conducting an ankle-brachial index (ABI) test. The test compares blood pressure in the arm to blood pressure in the lower leg. Lower pressure in the leg indicates a blockage might exist.
“Too many patients are told, ‘leg pain just comes with being old,’” Corpus says. “Ask to be tested.” 231-935-5000, munsonhealthcare.org.