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Ask the Expert: Karen Quirk, M.D. Why is vascular health important as heart health to women?

Heart disease is the #1 killer of women in the United States.  Like heart disease, peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is under-recognized in women. The prevalence of PAD among women is actually equal to that of men when using the diagnostic ankle brachial index (ABI) test. 12 to 20% of Americans over age 65 suffer from PAD, but only one-third are symptomatic. Symptoms can include pain when walking that subsides at rest, leg cramps, pain at rest, numbness and skin discoloration, sores or other symptoms of skin breakdown. Women may be more likely than men to have PAD without experiencing symptoms. 50 to 90% of women with PAD are asymptomatic or have unrecognized symptoms, which could put them at greater risk of developing more serious vascular disease before it is diagnosed. Thus, vascular experts recommend early screening.

legsEarly recognition and treatment of PAD while asymptomatic may be life-saving for women. Treatment may include investigation of disease in the coronaries (heart disease), and carotids (stroke), as well as the legs.  With early detection, smoking cessation, exercise, and medications, the progression of disease is effectively slowed. Also, early recognition of PAD enables easier and much less invasive treatment options that are often unavailable for advanced PAD.

padPAD is a common circulation problem in which the arteries that carry blood to the legs or arms become narrowed or clogged. This interferes with the normal flow of blood, sometimes causing pain, but often causing no symptoms at all.  Women experiencing varicose veins and even spider veins should be checked by a vascular surgeon to rule out more serious underlying conditions.

PAD Symptoms

  • The most common symptom of PAD is called claudication, which is leg pain that occurs when walking or exercising and disappears when the person stops the activity.
  • Other symptoms of PAD include: numbness and tingling in the lower legs and feet, coldness in the lower legs and feet, and ulcers or sores on the legs or feet that don’t heal.


  • PAD is a disease of the arteries that affects 10 million Americans.
  •  PAD can happen to anyone, regardless of age, but it is most common in men and women over age 50
  •  PAD affects 12-20% of Americans age 65 and older.

The skilled surgeons at Coastal Vascular Center are experts in the diagnosis and successful treatment of all forms of vascular disease and PAD.

Contact Coastal Vascular Center for more information on Vascular Health and

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