How COVID-19 is Affecting People with PAD
As areas all around the country continue to fight the coronavirus, people with other health issues are feeling the need to be even more cautious. One of the biggest problems health experts are having with COVID-19 is that there is still a lot we don't understand about it.
Recently, a new symptom has been observed that is especially concerning for people with peripheral artery disease: blood clots.
Does COVID-19 cause blood clots?
While it is difficult to say anything for sure, doctors have noticed a worrying trend: a higher rate of blood clots in people with COVID-19. It's still too early to say that the coronavirus is causing these clots because there just isn't enough data. Doctors only see the most severely ill patients, and many of these people suffer from other conditions like diabetes, vascular disease, and more. There's also no way of knowing what the rate of blood clotting is in less severe cases when people recover at home. Until we know more, it's best to be as safe as possible, especially if you suffer from a circulatory condition like peripheral artery disease.
Why is blood clotting dangerous for people with PAD?
Peripheral artery disease is a vascular condition in which the arteries in your leg fill with plaque. This constricts the blood flow, meaning less blood is getting to your legs. It can cause pain, swelling and leg sores. In some cases, patients lose feeling in their legs and can't even tell when something is wrong.
When the available space for blood to flow shrinks, clots become a much more serious concern. In a healthy artery, a small clot might pass through without incident. However, a swollen or clogged artery might cause a clog to get stuck completely, cutting off blood flow to the legs. This is called deep vein thrombosis.
The most dangerous situation is if a blood clot makes its way to the lungs (called a pulmonary embolism), or up to the brain, causing a stroke.
Should people with PAD avoid the doctor?
If you suffer from PAD, you might think avoiding the doctor's office would be wise to minimize your chance of contracting coronavirus. However, leaving PAD untreated can be just as dangerous. PAD is a progressive condition, which means it can get worse over time. Peripheral artery disease can:
- Cause painful mobility issues
- Increase risk for heart attack and stroke
- Increase risk of a pulmonary embolism
- Increase the time it takes your body to heal from wounds
- Raise your blood pressure to dangerous levels.
The good news is doctors are doing everything they can to make sure they can treat PAD safely, even with the current pandemic. Almost all offices have enhanced cleaning standards and are taking extra precautions to make sure patients don't interact with each other. Some of these steps include things like having patients wait in their cars and limiting the number of people who can be in an office at the same time. If you have PAD, don't let coronavirus get in the way of getting treatment.
How do I know if I have PAD?
The first thing to do is assess if you are having any symptoms of peripheral artery disease. Depending on how advanced a case is, symptoms may be severe, mild, or not present at all. Here are some of the most common signs you might have PAD:
- Weakness or numbness in the legs
- A color change in the legs
- Cramping in the calves, thighs, or hips
- Foot sores that won't heal
- Shiny skin or hair loss on the legs and feet
- Feeling especially cold in one leg compared to the other
Even if you aren't exhibiting any of these symptoms, you may still be at risk for PAD, or have a mild enough case that you aren't yet exhibiting symptoms. The good news is, there is a quick and easy way to check your arteries to see if you have PAD.
The same safe, noninvasive ultrasound machine that is used on pregnant women can be used to check for plaque buildup in the legs. This is a quick and easy test that shows immediate results and gives you an idea of the health of your arteries. For this test, a trained ultrasound technician uses the machine to scan the legs and watches the display. They are able to identify any trouble spots and show you (during the scan) where any arterial plaque buildup may be occurring.
If you have a significant enough buildup of plaque to be diagnosed with PAD, you can take the results to your doctor to work out a treatment plan.
Where can I get screened?
Most doctor's offices have the equipment and the capabilities to do the screening, but many health insurance companies won't cover the cost of them unless you are already exhibiting symptoms. But what if you want to do a preventative screening to assess your risk before you start showing signs of PAD? For preventative screenings, the simplest way is to go through Life Life Screening. Life Line Screening locations are found across the United States and are staffed with trained and certified technicians who can perform a variety of health tests.
To set up your screening, just visit us online to set up a consultation and schedule a screening. Life Line Screening has taken several steps to make sure that everyone who comes in for screening is as safe as if they were in a doctor's office. In fact, we have taken many of the same steps as your local physicians to ensure everyone's safety. You can read all about our COVID protocol here.
The bottom line: PAD and COVID-19
While scientists are still actively investigating the effects of COVID-19, the current research suggests the novel coronavirus can contribute to blood clotting. This blood clotting is especially dangerous for anyone who suffers from a vascular disease like peripheral artery disease. If you aren't sure if you have PAD (or any other vascular disease) the first step is to get screened so you know for sure. Once you know the state of your health, you can take the necessary steps to make sure you continue to live a happy, healthy life.
This article has been reviewed by the Life Line Screening clinical team. You can learn more about this team of experts HERE.