Peripheral artery disease (PAD) affects between 8 to 12 million Americans, yet often goes underdiagnosed or untreated because there are little to no symptoms.

Both men and women are affected by PAD, which is the narrowing or blockage of the vessels that carry blood from the heart to the legs. It is primarily caused by the build-up of fatty plaque in the arteries. While PAD can happen in any blood vessel, it is most common in the legs.

The most common symptom is pain in the legs with physical activity that gets better after rest, but up to 4 in 10 people with PAD have no leg pain at all. Symptoms may include aches or cramps with walking in the hip, thigh, or calf. Most people who have PAD fall into risk factors including smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and most people above the age of 60.

Dr. Muhammad Khan, a cardiologist with SSM Health St. Clare Hospital in Fenton, says if you have PAD, you are at risk for developing coronary artery disease which could lead to a heart attack or stroke. But the good news is that PAD is painless to diagnose. A simple blood pressure test or vascular ultrasound of the legs can diagnose if you have plaque buildup in the vessels.

Dr. Khan says with early diagnosis, lifestyle changes can be made to stop PAD from getting worse and can even reverse symptoms with exercise and control of cholesterol to your primary care doctor. With lifestyle changes such as quitting the use of tobacco products, a balanced diet, exercise, and managing stress, you can control symptoms.

To learn more about peripheral artery disease, click here.

The SSM Health Medical Minute airs Wednesdays on News 11 at 7 p.m. and FOX 2 News at 9 p.m.