According to the American Heart Association: The most common symptom of peripheral artery disease (PAD) in the lower extremities is a painful muscle cramping in the hips, thighs or calves when walking, climbing stairs or exercising.
The pain of PAD often goes away when you stop exercising, although this may take a few minutes. Working muscles need more blood flow. Resting muscles can get by with less.
If there’s a blood-flow blockage due to plaque buildup, the muscles won’t get enough blood during exercise to meet the needs. The “crampy” pain (called “intermittent claudication”), when caused by PAD, is the muscles’ way of warning the body that it isn’t receiving enough blood during exercise to meet the increased demand.
Many people with PAD have no symptoms or mistake their symptoms for something else.
Other symptoms of PAD include:
- Leg pain that does not go away when you stop exercising
- Foot or toe wounds that won’t heal or heal very slowly
- Gangrene, or dead tissue
- A marked decrease in the temperature of your lower leg or foot particularly compared to the other leg or to the rest of your body
- Poor nail growth on the toes or hair growth on the legs
- Erectile dysfunction, especially in men with diabetes
Understanding leg pain
Many people dismiss leg pain as a normal sign of aging. You may think it’s arthritis, sciatica or just “stiffness” from getting older. For an accurate diagnosis, consider the source of your pain. PAD leg pain occurs in the muscles, not the joints.
Those with diabetes might confuse PAD pain with a neuropathy, a common diabetic symptom that is a burning or painful discomfort of the feet or thighs. If you’re having any kind of recurring pain, talk to your healthcare professional and describe the pain as accurately as you can. If you have any of the risk factors for PAD, you should ask your healthcare professional about PAD even if you aren’t having symptoms.
Causes of peripheral vascular disease
Peripheral vascular disease is often caused by fatty deposits or plaque that builds up on the artery walls. This is also known as atherosclerosis and it can reduce your blood flow.
Often, atherosclerosis is discussed with heart disease and can effect any artery. However, when it occurs in arteries supplying your limbs it is referred to as peripheral arterial disease.
The causes of PAD include smoking, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney failure and obesity. It is possible genetic factors could play a role. Less commonly, blood vessel inflammation, injury to your limbs. Also, unusual anatomy of your ligaments or muscles, or radiation exposure can cause PAD.
PAD is a serious condition. Clogged arteries caused by decreased blood flow can cause painful cramping while walking or exercising. Numbness, weakness or tingling in the legs and feet and burning pain in feet and toes are other side effects. In serious cases, Peripheral artery disease of known for causing critical limb ischemia. This is a condition that begins as open sores that do not heal. These sores will progress to tissue depth causing gangrene. Sometimes requiring amputation of the affected limb.
Additionally, a major complication caused by peripheral vascular disease is the risk of a stroke or heart attack. The atherosclerosis that causes the signs and symptoms of peripheral artery disease isn’t limited to your legs. Fat deposits also build up in arteries supplying blood to your heart and brain.
The best way to prevent peripheral arterial disease is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. That means:
- Quit smoking if you’re a smoker.
- If you have diabetes, keep your blood sugar in good control.
- Exercise regularly. Aim for 30 to 45 minutes several times a week after you’ve gotten your doctor’s OK.
- Lower your cholesterol and blood pressure levels, if applicable.
- Eat foods that are low in saturated fat.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
In order to salvage the limbs, PAD is medically treated with prescribed medications. These medications treat high cholesterol, control blood pressure. As well as, decrease pain while walking in order to increase exercise. They also aim to prevent the buildup of plaque or formation of blood clots.
Peripheral artery disease is also treated using minimally invasive interventional radiology procedures. Angioplasty is opening a blocked artery with a medical balloon, enabling better blood flow. In some cases, the affected arteries need to remain open using a stent, which is a small metal cylinder. This treatment is stenting.
A stent-graft is another procedure. This is when a stent covered with a synthetic fabric is placed in the blood vessels to bypass affected arteries. A third interventional radiology procedure for peripheral artery disease called atherectomy. This procedure uses small catheter at the site of the blockage in order to shave the plaque away from the inside of the artery and remove it from the patient’s body
In some cases, PAD may be serious enough that a medical team has no choice but to perform surgery. This may be the only way to remove blockages or create bypasses around the clogged areas.
Why Visit Coastal Vascular Center
Dr. Divyang C. Ayar operates Coastal Vascular Center. He is a board certified radiologist. His certification is in both diagnostic radiology, and interventional and vascular radiology. With over 20 years of experience, Dr. Ayar understands your needs and concerns as a patient. He has performed thousands of successful vein management operations. He can help you too. Call or fill out our appointment form today.
*Credit to the American Heart Association