UNC Legs for Life patient receives 'peace of mind' after screening

The UNC Center for Heart and Vascular Care hosted a free 'Legs for Life' screening event in September 2013 to screen for peripheral arterial disease and abdominal aortic aneurysm

UNC Legs for Life patient receives 'peace of mind' after screening click to enlarge Kerry Langhorne

In September 2013, two divisions within the UNC Center for Heart and Vascular Care teamed up to host a ‘Legs for Life’ screening for peripheral arterial disease (PAD) and abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA).  The turnout was excellent, with physicians from vascular interventional radiology and vascular surgery screening over 50 people in four hours.

Two of those people were Kerry Langhorne and her mother. 

Langhorne works at Weaver Street Market in Southern Village.  In August 2013, Laurie Birdsong, Communications Specialist for the division of Radiology, asked Langhorne if she could post a flyer about an upcoming screening event at UNC Hospitals.  Happy to help, Langhorne took the flyer and posted it on the community bulletin board at Weaver Street.

As she was posting it, she realized that the flyer talked about something that she had been experiencing for a while: leg cramps and pain in her legs.  The ‘Legs for Life’ flyer offered free screenings for people with her symptoms, and she immediately made an appointment for her and her mother.  Langhorne felt that her elderly mother could also benefit from the peace of mind that the screening could provide.

Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) affects about 10 million people in the United States, but many people do not know they have the disease.  PAD is a sign of arteriosclerosis (clogged blood vessels) in the leg.  Arteriosclerosis is the primary cause of heart attack, the number one cause of death in the United States.

In the early stages, there may be no symptoms.  People may experience pain in the leg while walking that eases when they are at rest.  Other symptoms may include swelling or numbness in the leg or skin discoloration.  Those at highest risk for PAD include individuals age 50 and over who have a family history of cardiovascular disease and/or have diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or are smokers, and people who are overweight and/or lead an inactive lifestyle.

Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) affects as many as five to seven percent of people over the age of 60 and is caused by a weakened area in the aorta, the main vessel that supplies blood from the heart to the rest of the body.  When blood flows through the aorta, the weakened area bulges like a balloon, and if it grows large enough, there is a danger that it will burst.

Accounting for more than 15,000 deaths each year, the incidence of AAA has tripled in the United States in the past 30 years, probably due to aging in the population.

Abdominal aortic aneurysms are often called a “silent killer,” as patients often have no symptoms until their aneurysm bursts.  Fifty percent of all patients with a ruptured aneurysm die from the condition, which is why screening is crucial for people at highest risk. 

The screening was easy.  Langhorne said, “Everyone was very friendly, and it went very smoothly.  They took an ultrasound of my leg, and it was very interesting!  I could hear the sound of the blood flowing through my legs, like a heartbeat.”

The ultrasound results were good.  Langhorne did not have peripheral vascular disease or an aneurysm, and neither did her mother.  Still puzzling was the pain in her legs, which sometimes felt like her legs were tied into a ball.  Joseph Fulton, MD, Assistant Profession, division of vascular surgery, recommended that Langhorne schedule a follow-up appointment for a more detailed exam.

Langhorne would recommend a ‘Legs for Life’ screening to everyone with risk factors.  “Get checked early, before you have a problem” she says.  “Knowing that my mom and I do not have PAD or an aneurysm gives me peace of mind.”