Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a condition where blood flow to the legs is reduced or blocked. Peripheral artery diseases are caused by atherosclerosis, a hardening of the arteries.
The arteries which bring blood to the muscle tissue in your legs are narrowed because of plaque buildup. This can lead to several unique problems, including pain and numbness.
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What is the Peripheral Artery Disease?
Peripheral artery disease is a narrowing of the peripheral arteries serving the legs, stomach, arms, and head. (“Peripheral” in this case means away from the heart, in the outer regions of the body.) PAD most commonly affects arteries in the legs. Both PAD and coronary artery disease (CAD) are caused by atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis narrows and blocks arteries in critical regions of the body.
The most common symptoms of PAD involving the lower extremities are cramping, pain, or tiredness in the leg or hip muscles while walking or climbing stairs. Typically, this pain goes away with rest and returns when you walk again. Be aware of that.
- Many people mistake the symptoms of PAD for something else.
- PAD often goes undiagnosed by healthcare professionals.
- People with peripheral arterial disease have a higher risk of coronary artery disease, heart attack, or stroke.
- Left untreated, PAD can lead to gangrene and amputation.
Risk Factors of PAD
Risk factors can increase your chances for peripheral artery disease, including
- Your risk for peripheral artery disease increases with age. Age (over 50)
- If You Have High blood pressure.
- High cholesterol puts you at risk for PAD.
- If you smoke, you have an especially high risk of PAD.
- If you have diabetes, you have an especially high risk of PAD.
- Not being active increases the risk of PAD.
Peripheral Arterial Disease Symptoms
You may have muscle pain or cramping because there’s less blood flow on your legs. This type of pain is called claudication. You usually feel it when you walk or climb stairs, but it stops when you rest. It can affect different muscle groups, including.
- Buttock and hip
- Calf (most common)
- Foot (less common)
Some people have a sense of burning or numbness. If you have an advanced form of peripheral artery disease, your toes or feet might hurt even while you’re resting.
Signs and Symptoms of Peripheral Artery Disease
- Changes in the color of your legs
- Erectile dysfunction
- Leg weakness
- Legs that are cooler than your arms
- Loss of hair on your legs
- Fainter pulse in your feet
- Shiny skin on your legs
- Slow toenail growth
- Wounds or sores on your toes or feet that don’t heal well
You can also have severe blockages with no pain at all. This usually is because your body grows blood vessels around the blockages.
How to Treat Peripheral Arterial Disease?
If you’re at risk for peripheral artery disease or have been diagnosed with PAD, it’s worth knowing that:
- PAD is easily diagnosed in a simple, painless way.
- You can take control: Follow your doctor’s recommendations and strive to lead a heart-healthy lifestyle.
- Some cases of PAD can be managed with lifestyle changes and medication.
Atherosclerosis and Peripheral Arterial Disease
If you have atherosclerosis, that means that plaque has built up inside your artery walls. Plaque comprises deposits of fats, cholesterol, and other substances. Atherosclerosis in the peripheral arteries is the most common cause of PAD.
What happens is this? First, plaque builds up enough to narrow an artery, which chokes off blood flow. Next, if that plaque becomes brittle or inflamed, it may rupture, triggering a blood clot to form. A clot can further narrow the artery or completely block it.
If that blockage remains in the peripheral arteries of the legs, it can cause pain, changes in skin color, difficulty walking, and sores or ulcers. Total loss of circulation to the legs and feet can cause gangrene and losing a limb. If the blockage occurs in a carotid artery, it can cause a stroke.
It’s important to learn the facts about PAD. As with any disease, the more you understand, the more you’ll be able to help your doctor make an early diagnosis. PAD has common symptoms, but many people with PAD have no symptoms at all. Learn the facts, talk to your doctor, and take control of your cardiovascular health. This article originally published in the heart.org.
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