Two years ago, I was walking with my son in Brighton, when I stopped due to chest pain and legs that hurt. As a 4th year medical student he told me I should go to my GP. There followed a diagnosis of costochondritis for which I was given naproxen. When that didn’t help the pain after 6 weeks, my GP suggested I see a cardiologist to “rule out any heart problems”. After the usual investigations, ECG, 24 hour blood pressure, a CT Angiogram, it was confirmed that aged 54 I had coronary heart disease with my LAD having a 40% blockage in it.
I was 54, overweight with high blood pressure. To stop it getting any worse I was advised to adopt the Mediterranean diet and exercise more. But I still didn’t have an answer as to why my legs hurt when I walked.
I made an appointment to see a sports specialist as this pain in my legs was preventing me from exercising as much as I felt I needed to. This appointment led to seeing a vascular surgeon to “rule out any vascular problems” and to having an ultrasound of my legs.
It would not be too strong to say that my world fell apart as the kindly vascular surgeon explained the extent of my disease.
I have a 100% block in my right femoral artery and significant lesions in my left femoral artery, my iliac artery, my left carotid and in lots of other arteries I cannot even remember the name of. All I could hear was the side effects of this disease: stroke, heart attack, stenting, angioplasty in my legs, heart bypass, possible amputation and vascular dementia.
However, my vascular surgeon calmly but firmly explained that I had to take control of my disease and that she would not be operating on me at all. I had to eat well, walk daily, even when it hurt, and use an exercise bike 3 times a week for 45 minutes. There would be medication therapy which included statins, anti-coagulants and blood pressure tablets.
My new life started on Aug 18 2017. I walk to and from work each day, lengthening the walk when I can, shortening it when I need to. Having an employer who understands that I need to walk each day is really helpful for those days when my legs just hurt and I am a few minutes late.
Foodwise, I enlisted the help of a dietician who advised me on how to eat and promised I would never count calories or be told to eat food I didn’t like (I am a very picky eater!). I had an app on my phone and would take a picture of everything I ate. Then once a week she would have a look at it and help point me in the right direction.
I do find the continual commitment to exercising on the bike and in the gym quite hard despite knowing how necessary it is. Together with the walking, it is helping to build collateral vessels around my blockages, which in turn supplies the muscles with more oxygenated blood which prevents the pain in my calves.
I have annual checks to see how the PAD is progressing and at my last check-up my ankle brachial indices had both increased meaning that there is more blood being supplied to my calves and there is less pain in my calves.
My top tips for dealing with PAD are
- Accept that you have a serious disease
- Decide to do what you can to stay well
- Eat better, drop the sugar, don’t fry food and cut out the bad fat.
- Exercise More
- Walk every day -even when it hurts
- Buy enough outdoor clothes to walk in, even when it’s wet.
- Just take the medication
- Get regular blood tests to encourage you to eat well and to ensure your medication is working
- Ask questions
- Accept that today can be worse than yesterday, but tomorrow may be better than today.