Peripheral Artery Disease Harder on Women

Women with peripheral artery disease (PAD)  lose ability to walk short distances and climb stairs sooner than men.

Peripheral arterial disease occurs when plaque  builds up in the arteries that carry blood to your head, organs, and limbs. Plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium, fibrous tissue, and other substances in the blood.When plaque builds up in arteries, the condition is called atherosclerosis. Over time, plaque can harden and narrow the arteries. This limits the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your organs and other parts of your body.  PAD usually affects the legs, but also can affect the arteries that carry blood from your heart to your head, arms, kidneys, and stomach. This article focuses on PAD that blocks arteries going to or in the legs.

Small calf muscles may be a feminine trait, but for women with PAD they’re a major disadvantage. Researchers at Northwestern Medicine point to the smaller calf muscles of women as a gender difference that may cause women with PAD to experience problems walking and climbing stairs sooner and faster than men with the disease.   The study was published in the February 2011 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Peripheral artery disease affects eight million men and women in the United States. The disease causes blockages in leg arteries, and patients with PAD are at an increased risk of having a heart attack or stroke, said Mary McDermott, M.D., professor of medicine and of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

McDermott and a team of researchers observed 380 men and women with PAD for four years, measuring their calf muscle characteristics and leg strength every year. Oxygen is needed to fuel calf muscles, and blockages in leg arteries prevent oxygen from reaching the calf muscles of people with PAD.

The researchers also tracked whether or not the patients could walk for six minutes without stopping and climb up and down a flight of stairs without assistance every year.

“After four years, women with PAD were more likely to become unable to walk for six minutes continuously and more likely to develop a mobility disability compared to men with the disease,” said McDermott, lead author of the study. “When we took into account that the women had less calf muscle than men at the beginning of the study, that seemed to explain at least some of the gender difference.”

Interestingly, men in this study experienced a greater loss of calf muscle annually than the women. But the men had more lower extremity muscle reserve than the women. That may have protected men against the more rapid functional decline women experienced.   “We know that supervised treadmill exercise can prevent decline, so it’s especially important for women with PAD to get the diagnosis and engage in walking exercise to try and protect against decline,” McDermott said.

Source:   Erin White, Northwestern NewCenter

6 Comments

  1. Posted February 19, 2011 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    To me this is a very interesting study outcome. I hope to start the supervised treadmill exercise soon.

  2. Portland Neighborhood Guide
    Posted June 8, 2011 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for this information on PAD. I am curious about the difference between PAD and varicose veins or if they are related.

  3. Laser Treatment
    Posted July 28, 2011 at 5:06 am | Permalink

    Very important topic and is now very common disease in humans.

  4. Angiologist
    Posted May 4, 2012 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for this update. Women indeed have less calf muscle reserve, and often also smaller arteries. These factors may contribute toward less functional and physiological reserve and thus more debilitating PAD.

  5. Four Palms Massage Therapy
    Posted July 18, 2012 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for posting. We are researching PAD. Our thoughts are that perhaps massage therapy included with excercise would lessen muscle loss.

  6. Naman
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 1:36 am | Permalink

    this is a very important information for me.. I am suffering from this problem for a long time…

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