Self-management

Lifestyle and home remedies

Many people can manage the symptoms of peripheral artery disease and stop the progression of the disease through lifestyle changes, especially quitting smoking. To stabilize or improve PAD:

  • Stop smoking. Smoking contributes to constriction and damage of your arteries and is a significant risk factor for the development and worsening of PAD. If you smoke, quitting is the most important thing you can do to reduce your risk of complications.

    If you're having trouble quitting on your own, ask your doctor about smoking cessation options, including medications to help you quit.

  • Exercise. This is a key component. Success in treatment of PAD is often measured by how far you can walk without pain. Proper exercise helps condition your muscles to use oxygen more efficiently.

    Your doctor can help you develop an appropriate exercise plan. He or she may refer you to a claudication exercise rehabilitation program.

  • Eat a healthy diet. A heart-healthy diet low in saturated fat can help control your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which contribute to atherosclerosis.
  • Avoid certain cold medications. Over-the-counter cold remedies that contain pseudoephedrine (Advil Cold & Sinus, Aleve-D Sinus & Headache, Claritin-D, Sudafed, Tylenol Cold, Zyrtec-D, others) constrict your blood vessels and may increase your PAD symptoms.

Careful foot care

In addition to the above suggestions, take good care of your feet. People with peripheral artery disease, especially those who also have diabetes, are at risk of poor healing of sores on the lower legs and feet.

Poor blood circulation can postpone or prevent proper healing and increases the risk of infection. Follow this advice to care for your feet:

  • Wash your feet daily, dry them thoroughly and moisturize often to prevent cracks that can lead to infection. Don't moisturize between the toes, however, as this can encourage fungal growth.
  • Wear well-fitting shoes and thick, dry socks.
  • Promptly treat any fungal infections of the feet, such as athlete's foot.
  • Take care when trimming your nails.
  • Inspect your feet daily for injuries.
  • Have a foot doctor (podiatrist) treat bunions, corns or calluses.
  • See your doctor at the first sign of a sore or injury to your skin.

Coping and support

Peripheral artery disease can be frustrating, especially when the exercise that will help you get better causes you pain. Don't get discouraged, however. As you continue exercising, you'll increase the distance you can walk without pain.

You may find it helpful to raise the head of your bed by 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 centimeters), because keeping your legs below the level of your heart usually lessens pain.

Another tip for reducing your symptoms is to avoid cold temperatures as much as possible. If you can't avoid the cold, be sure to dress in warm layers.

Prevention

The best way to prevent claudication is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. That means:

  • Quit smoking if you're a smoker.
  • If you have diabetes, keep your blood sugar in good control.
  • Exercise regularly. Aim for 30 minutes several times a week after you have gotten your doctor's OK.
  • Lower your cholesterol and blood pressure levels, if applicable.
  • Eat foods that are low in saturated fat.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.