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October 25, 2006

Mitra Foroutan
Corporate Communications & Public Relations
519-685-8500, ext. 74772

Silent Epidemic Affects 1 in 20 Adult Canadians

(LONDON, Ontario) - A silent epidemic is spreading across Canada, affecting one in twenty adults, many of whom don’t even know they suffer from the disease. They think the fatigue, pain and cramping in their leg muscles, that occurs when walking and goes away with rest, are just signs of getting old, when they could be symptoms of a more serious and deadly disease.

Peripheral Arterial Disease (P.A.D.), best described as “angina of the leg”, is a largely unrecognized condition that puts thousands of Canadians at risk for heart attack and stroke. P.A.D. occurs when arteries, particularly in the lower legs, become clogged with fatty deposits that limit blood flow and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.

“It is important that we raise awareness of this silent killer,” says Marge Lovell, clinical trials nurse in Vascular Surgery at London Health Sciences Centre and co-chair of the international Peripheral Arterial Disease (P.A.D.) Coalition. “This disease often goes undiagnosed and untreated because people don’t talk to their doctors about their symptoms, assuming it’s just part of the aging process. The key is early diagnosis and proper treatment which can improve quality of life and reduce cardiovascular events for people with P.A.D.”

“Historically, P.A.D. has been underdiagnosed, undertreated and underappreciated as a major risk of cardiovascular events and early death”, says Dr. Thomas Forbes, chief of Vascular Surgery at London Health Sciences Centre. “In response, London Health Sciences Centre has developed a multidisciplinary approach involving vascular surgeons, nurses, internists, dietitians and interventional radiologists. Up to 1000 patients annually benefit from the multi-disciplinary approach with greater quality of life and life expectancy from medical therapy, risk factor modification, surgical and interventional therapies.”

Ron Alexander, a patient being treated by the Vascular Surgery clinic at London Health Sciences Centre, had symptoms of P.A.D. for twenty years before the pain was intense enough for him to discuss it with his family doctor five years ago. Alexander was sent for a Doppler test, known as the Ankle Brachial Index (ABI). This test measures the blood pressure in the legs compared to blood pressure in the arm, and he was diagnosed with P.A.D. after it was found that the pressure was lower in his legs than in his arms. Since then, Alexander has quit smoking, lost weight and tries to exercise regularly.

However, living with P.A.D. means that he cannot be as active as he once was. “I used to workout at a gym and golf three to four times a week, walking the course every time. Now I can only walk half of a block before I need to rest, and I have to use an electric golf cart when I golf,” says Alexander. “If people knew the symptoms to look for, they could get treatment earlier and go on a program as soon as possible.”

Those at risk for P.A.D. include people over the age of 50, those who smoke or have a history of smoking, those with diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or those with a personal or family history of other cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attack or stroke.

Anyone experiencing discomfort in their leg muscles when walking, foot or leg pain that disturbs their sleep or skin wounds that don’t heal properly, should see their family doctor. Patients with P.A.D. are at risk of losing a limb and are, on average, four times more likely to suffer from a heart attack or stroke.

London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) is one of Canada’s largest acute-care teaching hospitals and is dedicated to excellence in patient care, teaching and research. LHSC has pioneered many national and international medical breakthroughs. Located in London, Ontario, LHSC encompasses three sites, South Street Hospital, University Hospital and Victoria Hospital; two family medical centres; and the London Regional Cancer Program. LHSC is the home of the Children’s Hospital of Western Ontario and CSTAR (Canadian Surgical Technologies & Advanced Robotics). The research arm of LHSC is Lawson Health Research Institute, which is partnered with London’s other teaching hospital, St. Joseph’s Health Care, London. LHSC is affiliated with The University of Western Ontario. Physicians and staff at LHSC number close to 9,000 and together they provided care for more than one million patient visits last year.