Peripheral artery disease occurs when the peripheral arteries begin to narrow and lower blood flow through out the body. The peripheral arteries lead into various parts of the body including the stomach, arms, and head, but PAD typically affects the arteries in the legs. In most cases PAD is the result of atherosclerosis, which is the build up of fatty deposits within the artery walls. The less common causes include blood vessel inflammation, injury to any limbs, unusual anatomy of ligaments or muscles, and radiation exposure.
- Cramping in the hip, thigh or calf area after moderately intense physical activity.
- Numbness or weakness in the legs.
- Coldness in the feet or lower leg area.
- Sores that are not healing properly located on the toes, feet, or legs.
- Change of color in the legs.
- Hair loss or slow hair growth in the feet or the legs.
- Slower growth of toe nails.
- Shiny skin on the legs.
- Low or no pulse in the legs or feet.
- For men, erectile dysfunction.
If not treated, symptoms may worsen. If PAD continues to progress, pain may be felt while laying down and even during rest. In some cases, pain will become intolerable and a person affected with PAD may even wake up from sleep due to the amount of pain.
Anyone experiencing these symptoms should see a doctor right away. It is advised that if you are over the age of 50, or have a history of diabetes or smoking, to be regularly screened for the disease. For those under the age of 50, it is best to also be regularly screened by a health care professional if they have a history of diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and risk factors related to PAD. If the condition is not monitored regularly, then some may be at risk of developing critical limb ischemia. This is the condition when injuries or infections continue to grow and eventually cause tissue death such as gangrene. PAD may also lead to future strokes or heart attacks if not addressed early enough.
Prevention & treatments:
- Quit Smoking – Smoking is a major risk factor for PAD and other heart-related diseases. A non-smoking lifestyle can affectively slow down the progression of PAD.
- Controlling Blood Sugar – For those affected by diabetes, it is important to manage blood sugar, as it will reduce limb-related complications.
- Diet – Most of the fatty build up that causes PAD are high cholesterol levels coming from saturated and trans fats. Staying away from foods containing these types of fats can help lower blood cholesterol levels and reduce the effects of PAD as well.
- Exercise – The level of exercise may vary based on your health condition and age. To prevent PAD, having a regular exercise routine, combined with a balanced diet can be enough. For those already affected by PAD, signing up for a supervised exercise training program is best to deal with symptoms such as leg pain.
Patients highly affected by PAD may need other treatments assigned by their health care providers. For those having trouble managing high blood pressure or cholesterol levels, doctors may prescribe medication with specific directions. This treatment may still not be enough for others. Extreme cases that need more than medication, often require surgery.