UW News

August 31, 2004

Harborview to offer free Legs For Life® screening event Sept. 18

Harborview Medical Center physicians and staff will do their part to improve the cardiovascular health of the community by offering free Peripheral Vascular Disease (PVD) screenings 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 18 at Harborview’s Patient and Family Resource Center (325 9th Avenue, ground floor of East Hospital near the Gift Shop). To schedule a screening, call 206-731-2000. A limited number of appointments will be offered and they will be provided on a first-come, first-served basis.

September is National PVD Awareness Month and the outreach effort is sponsored in cooperation by Harborview’s Vascular Imaging Center of Excellence and the Society of Interventional Radiology (SIR). The event focuses on increasing awareness of PVD, a common circulation problem in which arteries carrying blood to the legs or arms become narrowed or clogged.

“Peripheral vascular disease is a relatively common, though under-diagnosed source of leg pain,” said Eric K. Hoffer, M.D., director of Interventional Radiology and associate director of Radiology at Harborview.

“Through this screening program, Harborview, other local hospitals, and the SIR, hopes to increase awareness among patients and primary care physicians about this potentially debilitating, though often treatable disease,” he said, adding that the simple screening test comparing ankle and arm blood pressures may indicate there is treatable cause for aches and pains and that they are not due to “old age” or arthritis.

As many as 10 million people in the U.S. may have PVD. The most common symptom of PVD is painful cramping in the leg or hip, particularly when walking. This occurs when there is not enough blood flow to the leg muscles during exercise.

Other symptoms include:

  • Numbness, tingling or weakness in the leg
  •  Burning or aching pain in feet or toes when resting
  •  Sore on leg or foot that won’t heal
  •  Cold legs or feet
  •  Color change in leg skin or feet
  •  Loss of hair on legs.

Men are somewhat more likely than women to have PVD. Those at highest risk:

  •  People over the age of 50
  •  Smokers
  •  Diabetics
  •  People who are overweight
  •  People with high blood pressure or high cholesterol
  •  People with a family history of heart or vascular disease may also be at higher risk for PVD.

Sometimes called peripheral arterial disease, or PAD, many people refer to PAD or PVD as “hardening of the arteries.” This hardening interferes with the normal flow of blood and sometimes causes pain, but often causes no symptoms. The most common cause of PVD is atherosclerosis, a gradual process in which cholesterol and scar tissue build up, forming a substance called “plaque” that clogs the blood vessels.

PVD affects about 1 in 20 people over the age of 50. More than half of those with PVD experience leg pain, numbness or other symptoms. But many people dismiss these signs as a normal part of aging and don’t seek medical help. Among those with PVD symptoms, only half have been diagnosed and are receiving treatment.

Harborview participants will be asked to fill out risk assessment questionnaires for the screenings they are offering in addition to exams such as an Ankle Brachial Index (ABI) and ultrasound to further determine risk of cardiovascular diseases. Those determined to be at moderate or high risk for any of these diseases will be advised to see their primary care physicians for additional follow-up and treatment options.

Legs For Life® was piloted in 1998 and is held each September. More than 250,000 people have been screened for PVD. Approximately one out of every four people screened was found to be at moderate or high-risk of the disease.