Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a serious condition that has symptoms you may not notice. If you have PAD, you’re at risk for other life-threatening conditions such as coronary artery disease or cerebrovascular disease.
The specialists at Heart & Vascular Institute know the importance of treating PAD, and they can help you understand your symptoms and risks. Fortunately, PAD often can be corrected through lifestyle changes.
PAD and atherosclerosis
When you have PAD, your blood vessels stiffen and narrow, restricting the blood flow to your extremities. It most often affects the legs and feet, but may also affect your arms and hands.
Scientists believe a buildup of fatty deposits in your arteries, called atherosclerosis, causes the narrowing and stiffening. Atherosclerosis can affect the blood vessels around your heart, leading to cardiovascular disease, or those that go to your brain, causing cerebrovascular disease.
The most common symptom of PAD is claudication — pain in your legs when you walk. The pain may feel like muscle cramping or heaviness, and it goes away when you rest.
Since PAD most often affects the legs and feet, most people feel claudication in their calves, but where you feel the pain depends on which arteries are clogged.
Claudication may just cause mild or annoying pain, or it can be debilitating. The fact that it can be mild, even if you have extensive PAD, is one of the reasons it can be hard to recognize it as a symptom. Other symptoms include:
- Pain in your hips or thighs after activity
- Numbness or weakness in your legs
- One foot feeling colder than the other
- Sores that won’t heal on your feet or legs
- Discolored skin on your feet or legs
- Hair loss on your feet or legs
- Slow-growing toenails
- Shiny skin on your legs
- Weak pulse in your legs or feet
- Erectile dysfunction
- Pain in your arms when you write, use tools, knit or do similar activities
In more severe cases of PAD, you may even feel pain when you’re at rest. If you wake during the night with pain in your legs, but find that hanging them over the bed or walking around brings relief, it could be a sign of PAD.
Complications of PAD
The reason we describe PAD as a serious condition is that it’s associated with other conditions such as amputation, stroke, and heart attack.
PAD restricts blood flow, and blood flow is necessary for healing. If you have a small wound on your foot or leg, and it can’t heal, your risk of infection is much higher.
Critical limb ischemia happens when you have a wound that won’t heal that leads to tissue death. In some cases, critical limb ischemia requires amputation.
Cardiovascular disease and cerebrovascular disease are the forerunners of heart attack and stroke. The same fatty deposits that restrict blood flow to your limbs can restrict blood flow to your heart and your brain.
Risk factors for PAD
There are some things that raise your risk of developing PAD. For example, if you’re a smoker, you have a far higher chance of developing PAD. Here are some other risk factors:
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- High cholesterol
- Being older than 65
- A family history of PAD, heart disease, or stroke
Prevention and treatment of PAD
Quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, consuming a healthy diet, and exercising are the best ways to prevent PAD, and are important steps in treatment as well.
Depending on the extent of your condition, as well as any other risk factors you have, your doctor may also suggest medications or even surgery to open your blood vessels.
If you have risk factors or symptoms of PAD, schedule an appointment at Heart & Vascular Institute, with locations in Dearborn, Detroit, and Southfield, Michigan. Even if your symptoms aren’t severe, give us a call. Earlier treatment leads to better outcomes.