Death of Entertainer Jerry Lewis Raises Awareness of Peripheral Artery


Jerry Lewis, one of America’s best-loved entertainers, died on the 20th of August in his home in Las Vegas. He was 91.

While it has long been known that Lewis suffered from cardiac disease dating back to the early 1980s the report of his death also included Peripheral Arterial Disease, or PAD, as a contributing cause of death.

The Show Business Career of Jerry Lewis

Lewis was a complete entertainer – a comedian, showman, actor, and director. The comedy team of Martin and Lewis (with Dean Martin) was the hottest act in show business from 1946 to 1956.

After that, Lewis became a solo act and wrote, directed and starred in a series of classic comedy films including The Nutty Professor, The Bellboy, The Errand Boy and many others.

Lewis was also a philanthropist, dedicated to helping children with muscular dystrophy. The annual telethon he hosted for many decades for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) helped raise more than $2 billion for “Jerry’s kids.”

Jerry Lewis and Peripheral Artery Disease

When it was revealed that Lewis suffered from PAD, many people still did not understand what that is. Peripheral Arterial Disease or PAD is the buildup of atherosclerosis or plaque in the arteries of the legs.

PAD is most common in people 70 and over, though it is also common in those 50 and over if the individual is a smoker or has a history of diabetes. The symptoms of PAD are often attributed to simple aging, which is partly why although 8.5 million Americans have been diagnosed with PAD, the SAGE group estimates that another 12.5 million Americans are living with PAD, completely unaware. It’s also why the American Heart Association estimates that only 25% of the population is aware of the disease.

In essence, if the patient’s body is the coal mine and atherosclerosis is the carbon monoxide, PAD is the canary. By itself, atherosclerosis has traditionally been nearly undetectable without the physical manifestation of symptoms; therefore, in many, the patient’s first indication of atherosclerosis is when they experience some — or all – of the symptoms of PAD.

New Method of PAD Detection

Now, a new method of PAD detection is available: the QuantaFlo™ system from Semler Scientific which allows primary care physicians to quickly, simply, and painlessly test patients for PAD right in their office, even if no symptoms are evident. This can lead to earlier detection of PAD than was ever possible before.

Left untreated, PAD can lead to a host of comorbidities, including gangrene, a decreased flow of blood to the kidneys, stomach, head, and arms and, most commonly, CAD (which, in turn, leads to heart attacks and strokes).

Therefore, it’s essential for patients suffering from PAD to work with their medical provider and create a treatment plan that will decrease or eliminate the risk of their PAD progressing to potentially riskier areas of the body.

This is why early detection of PAD is so important.

What Treatment Options Exist For PAD?

Although untreated PAD carries many long-term risks, there is good news: PAD can be treated in a number of ways to lower an individual’s risk of heart attack, depending on their age, lifestyle, and the stage of the disease.

If the disease is in its earlier stages, the treatment options are simple. Since smoking is one of the main contributing factors to atherosclerosis, smokers can discuss a cessation plan with their medical provider.

On top of that, simple dietary changes can lower a patient’s bad cholesterol and increase their good cholesterol, which will lessen the effect of arterial plaque buildup. Finally, obesity increases the risk of atherosclerosis, so starting (and continuing) an exercise regimen can be enough to stop the progression of PAD.

In more advanced cases, treatment for PAD can require a more aggressive approach, which often includes surgical intervention. There are many options for patients suffering from PAD, but the most common (and least invasive) is an angioplasty or a stent placed in the arteries of the leg.

If an angioplasty isn’t an option, another method is lower extremity bypass surgery, where surgeons create a new route for blood to flow through the legs.

The third most common surgical option is an atherectomy. While angioplasty pushes the plaque outward from the center of blood vessels and bypass surgery creates new routes for blood flow, an atherectomy involves entering the arteries with a sharpened catheter and cleaning the plaque buildup from within.

By themselves, these surgical options won’t eliminate the risk of heart attack, but remember: decreasing the risk of heart attacks is about prevention, not treatment.

Assuming whichever procedure the patient chooses is a success, individuals with PAD will experience less leg pain, therefore enabling them to make the lifestyle changes that are vital to protect their coronary arteries and stop the progression of atherosclerosis before it’s too late.