Blockages in the body's arteries.
Peripheral artery and vascular disease is a common issue when you have atherosclerosis, narrowed arteries due to fatty deposits. PAD involves limb pain and can be dangerous if you don’t seek medical care.
Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) can occur with few symptoms, although most people who develop this condition will experience some pain in their legs when walking. Called claudication, it sets in during physical activity but subsides several minutes after you rest. Calf pain is the most common symptom of PAD, however, you might also notice numbness or weakness in one of your legs, a cold sensation in your leg or foot, color change in your legs, or slower toenail growth.
Additional symptoms of peripheral artery and vascular disease can include erectile dysfunction in men, shiny skin on your legs, sores on your legs, feet, or toes that won’t heal, or hair loss or slower hair growth on the legs or ankles. Sometimes, PAD progresses without treatment to the point that pain in your legs will occur even when resting, called ischemic rest pain.
Most people notice these changes in their legs over time, but it’s important to be aware of the symptoms of peripheral artery and vascular disease so that you can seek medical care as early as possible. PAD can lead to serious health emergencies if left untreated and is a sign that your arteries are narrowing.
Similarly to coronary artery disease where fatty deposits called plaque slowly narrow your artery walls, peripheral artery and vascular disease happens over time. This build-up, called atherosclerosis, can occur in any artery in your body and with PAD typically affects your limbs. Some people develop PAD as a result of other causes including radiation exposure, limb injury, blood vessel inflammation, or unusual anatomy in your muscles or ligaments.
The risk factors associated with peripheral artery and vascular disease are similar to those identified in developing coronary artery disease. Family history can play a role, but most often the condition occurs as a result of lifestyle choices or a preexisting medical condition. Tobacco use and obesity are significant risk factors for PAD, as well as having diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, or high levels of homocysteine, a protein that aids in maintaining muscle tissue. Individuals over the age of 50 are also at a higher risk.
Before developing a treatment plan for peripheral artery and vascular disease, it’s important to understand the severity of your atherosclerosis. This can be evaluated through a physical exam, ultrasound, blood tests, or an ankle-brachial index where the blood pressure in your ankle is compared to that of your arm. Treating PAD often takes a two-pronged approach where pain management and symptom reduction are equally as important as ensuring that your atherosclerosis doesn’t worsen.
Medication is often helpful to reduce your blood pressure, control blood sugar, reduce clotting, or lower cholesterol and can sometimes be sufficient to effectively manage PAD. Supervised exercise programs may also be beneficial, and in some cases, surgery may be required to reduce claudication. Making changes to your lifestyle can also help to prevent peripheral artery and vascular disease as well as regularly visiting your cardiologist.