The signs may be there--leg pain in the muscles when walking or climbing stairs that goes away with rest; sores on the legs that don’t heal; color changes in the skin on the feet. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, don’t ignore them. You could have peripheral artery disease (PAD), a serious condition.
What is it?
The process that causes fatty deposits in the arteries leading to your heart can do the same thing to almost every other artery in your body. The consequences of these blockages can be every bit as serious as a heart attack. In fact, these blockages put you more at risk for a heart attack or stroke because plaque in the leg arteries suggests a more aggressive degree of overall blockage.
What are the symptoms?
PAD affects one in every 20 Americans over the age of 50, but it doesn’t always produce symptoms so you may not know you have it. When symptoms do develop, these are the most common:
Claudication, or fatigue, heaviness, tiredness, or cramping in your leg muscles (buttocks, thigh, or calf) that occurs during activity, like walking or climbing stairs, and goes away once you stop the activity or rest.
Pain in the legs and/or feet that disturbs your sleep.
Sores or wounds on your toes, feet or legs that heal slowly, poorly, or not at all.
Color changes in the skin of your feet, including paleness or blueness.
A lower temperature in one leg compared to the other leg.
How is PAD treated?
There are three main approaches to treating PAD:
Lifestyle changes. Your healthcare provider will recommend you quit smoking if you do smoke; get your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood glucose levels into normal range; be more physically active; eat a healthy low-fat diet; and aim for a healthy weight.
Medication. Drugs to treat PAD work to lower high blood pressure and cholesterol levels and treat diabetes; prevent blood clots from forming; and help reduce leg pain while walking or climbing stairs.
Special procedures/surgeries. For serious cases in which blood flow to one of your limbs is completely or almost shut off, you may benefit from a surgical procedure, such as angioplasty or bypass graft surgery. These procedures will not cure PAD, but they can improve the blood circulation to your legs and your ability to walk.
Talk to your healthcare provider if you’re experiencing symptoms of PAD, have yourself checked, and learn what you can do to lower your risk and stay well.
Are you at risk for PAD? Take our online risk assessment, and read more about the risks of PAD here.
Todd A. Wood, MD, is the medical director of the Vascular Clinic at the Lancaster Heart & Vascular Institute. He is an interventional cardiologist with extensive training in peripheral endovascular interventions and non-invasive technologies to diagnose heart disease. A physician at The Heart Group of Lancaster General Health, Dr. Wood is board certified in internal medicine, cardiovascular disease, interventional cardiology, vascular ultrasonography, vascular medicine and endovascular intervention/medicine.