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Wednesday, September 9, 2015
When Christine Coyne, 63, was diagnosed with peripheral artery disease in 2007, she didn’t realize that the muscle aches that left her unable to walk the length of her home were signs of serious condition.
“My legs would cramp up even if I didn’t walk very far. It made me and my doctor think I was just out of shape and in need of exercise,” says Coyne.
After enduring continued pain for a year, Christine opted for a second opinion and was diagnosed with peripheral artery disease. Ultimately, she underwent surgery performed by Christopher J. Kwolek, program director of the MGH Vascular and Endovascular Surgery and Training Program.
Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is caused when the arteries in the legs become narrow or clogged with fatty deposits, also called plaque, resulting in reduced blood flow to the legs and feet. Early signs of PAD can include claudication, cramping or pain in the major muscle groups – the back of the calves, the hip, thigh, or buttocks when walking, especially upstairs or at an incline.
The condition affects an estimated eight to 12 million Americans, but numbers continue to climb as the baby boomer population ages. Kwolek encourages patients, especially those who have a history of smoking, high blood pressure or cholesterol, diabetes, and a family history of arterial disease, to know the symptoms of PAD and speak with their physician regularly about their vascular health.
“Patients may not recognize that muscle aches can be a sign of a major systemic disease.” Kwolek says. “Blockages in the legs many times can be indicators of problems developing in other parts of the body. If you are making the necessary lifestyle changes – stop smoking, increase exercise, and alter nutrition, it makes a difference throughout your body and isn’t just helping your lower extremities.”
After diagnosis, PAD can many times be managed with lifestyle changes and medications. Coyne says, “After 45 years of smoking, I stopped. I now walk 10 minutes a day and swim multiples times a week at a local pool. I need to make sure I’m getting proper exercise to stay healthy.”
Symptoms may also be improved through minimally-invasive endovascular procedures that use balloons, catheters and stents to restore blood flow to the clogged area. For more extensive blockages, however, bypass surgery, where a graft is used to create a new channel for blood to flow, may be required.
For Coyne, the ‘hybrid’ treatment, which incorporates a smaller, open operation with a catheter-based procedure, was needed for relief. Kwolek and his team removed a blockage in the femoral artery in the groin through a small incision and then performed a balloon/stent procedure to open up a major artery blockage in Coyne’s abdomen at the same setting. They have been carefully following her progress and were quickly able to act when symptoms appeared in her other leg. She will undergo a similar procedure in October on the opposite leg, but is optimistic about its outcome, thanks to Kwolek’s guidance.
“Dr. Kwolek is great – he’s a doll. He’s a top notch doctor with a very pleasant manner in dealing with people. I can’t recommend him more highly. He knows his stuff and has been extremely comforting. I wouldn’t go to anyone else for treatment.
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