Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is basically a circulatory problem in which narrowed arteries and hence decrease blood flow to your limbs. It is typically caused by the buildup of fatty deposits (or plaques) in your arterial walls, a condition known as atherosclerosis. PAD most often affects the legs but can also impact other arteries in your body. It’s critical to understand and recognize the symptoms of PAD, as the disease can lead to more severe complications if left untreated.
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Common Symptoms of PAD
PAD can be silent for a long time, and many people with PAD have mild or no symptoms. However, the following are the most common symptoms associated with the disease:
Intermittent claudication refers to muscle pain or cramping that typically occurs in the legs and may be triggered by activities like walking or climbing stairs. This pain usually subsides with rest. The location of the pain can actually indicate where the artery is narrowed or blocked. For instance, pain in the calf might suggest a blockage in the lower leg, while pain in the thighs or buttocks could point to a blockage higher up.
Coldness and Numbness
One might experience coldness or numbness in the lower leg or foot, mostly when compared with the other side. This occurs because less warm blood reaches the affected limb. In some cases, this might affect your balance, making it harder to walk or stand.
Sores That Don’t Heal
Sores on the toes, feet, or legs that heal slowly or not at all can be a sign of PAD. Because the blood flow is reduced, the body cannot properly heal these sores.
You may notice that the skin on your legs turns pale or bluish. This is due to inadequate blood supply, causing a lack of oxygen and nutrients in the tissue.
Hair Loss or Slower Hair Growth
The legs or feet may lose hair, or hair may grow more slowly on the affected leg.
The skin on the legs can become shiny as the hair falls out.
Weak Pulse in Legs or Feet
If PAD is advanced, a physician may find that the pulse in the affected leg or foot is weak or absent.
Slow Growth of Toenails
Poor blood flow can affect the growth of toenails.
In men, symptoms of PAD might also include erectile dysfunction.
If you notice any of these signs or symptoms, it’s important to speak with your doctor. Left untreated, PAD can lead to actual debilitating pain, non-healing foot or leg wounds, and in severe cases, amputation.
While PAD can be serious, it’s also treatable, particularly when it’s caught early. Lifestyle changes, medications, and in some cases, surgical procedures can help manage PAD symptoms and prevent progression.
Regular check-ups are also important, especially if you have risk factors for PAD, like smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or a family history of heart disease or stroke. Your healthcare provider can provide the best advice based on your specific circumstances and health conditions.