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Preventing diabetes and heart disease could save your feet

Health and Wellness

Foot health, vascular healthMore than 287,000 Oregonians are living with diabetes, a preventable disease that can lead to other chronic conditions, such as heart disease or peripheral arterial disease (PAD), which can lead to a blockage in arteries connected to your legs and feet.

PAD and vascular problems in the limbs arise due to poor diet, lack of exercise and other unhealthy lifestyles choices that affect your health. It's most common among seniors 70 and older, but depending on diet and other risk factors, younger adults in their 30s, 40s and 50s can also develop PAD.

Dr. Jed Peterson"When people consume too many foods that are high in sugar and fat and don't get enough exercise, it can damage their red blood cells and lead to a blockage in arteries in their limbs," says Dr. Jed Peterson, an interventional radiologist with Adventist Health's Northwest Regional Heart & Vascular. "People living with diabetes are particularly at risk for vascular problems and PAD, because they have low oxygen levels in their blood that leads to problems with circulation and increases risks for bacterial infections."

Symptoms of vascular problems and PAD

The progression of PAD and other vascular problems can be fairly silent and hard to detect.

Commons symptoms for PAD include numbness or cooling in the feet, legs or other limbs. An asymmetry in body temperature can also act as a warning sign, as it can indicate poor circulation to limbs. Resting foot pain is another common symptom when someone may be experiencing vascular problems.

Improving circulation and avoiding amputation

"We've see incredible advancements in technology in just the past couple of years that allow us to more easily locate a blockage in an artery and intervene to improve circulation to a damaged area," says Peterson. "Through minimally invasive surgery, we revascularize the arteries and increase circulation to help save a patient's leg or foot."

Adventist Health has the only limb preservation team in Portland. The team consists of vascular specialists like Dr. Peterson, as well as orthopedic surgeons, a diabetologist, wound care experts and primary care doctors who work together to find a treatment to improve circulation for a patient, rather than amputate.

Preventing vascular issues and amputation

Dr. Peterson stresses that people have the opportunity to improve their health and make lifestyle choices that keep their arteries clear and healthy. "The best way to improve circulation is to improve your diet, exercise regularly and keep your cholesterol and triglycerides at optimal levels."

A simple lipid test, which is just a fancy way of saying blood test, is the best way to test cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) should stay below 190, as it can build up in the arteries, causing blood flow issues and vascular problems. HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol) actually fights against both vascular and heart disease. Triglycerides, which are the fats in your blood stream that energize the body, should stay below 150. Eating a nutritious diet low in sugars and fats is the best way to prevent high triglycerides, which have been linked to heart disease and vascular problems.

Switching to whole grains, eating more fruits and vegetables, choosing low-fat dairy options and boosting consumption of foods that fight inflammation are just some food options that can improve vascular health. Getting at least 30 minutes of low-impact daily exercise, such as walking or swimming, is also a great way to shed unwanted pounds and improve blood flow.

Dr. Jed Peterson will present on vascular issues, PAD and limb preservation at "A Fair of the Heart" on February 28, a free event to celebrate our hearts.