Millions of people in the U.S. have some form of peripheral artery disease (PAD). PAD occurs when the peripheral arteries to the legs, arms, head, and stomach narrow. Most PAD symptoms occur in the arteries of the legs. Atherosclerosis, which is plaque build-up that blocks and narrows arteries and restricts blood flow in different regions of the body, is the primary cause of PAD. Plaque is formed with cholesterol and fat deposits, as well as other substances. Everyone should become familiar with PAD, since it can be a serious condition. If you are especially at risk for developing PAD, it’s important to be aware of the symptoms.
Symptoms of PAD
About half of the people with PAD are unaware of the condition, due to a lack of apparent symptoms. The following are among the symptoms that could be an indication of PAD:
- The legs appear shiny or the skin turns bluish or pale.
- Toenails grow very slowly.
- Toenails are brittle.
- Weakness in the legs.
- Numbness in the legs.
- Hair loss on the legs and feet.
- Occasional pain when climbing stairs or walking, which is called “claudication.”
- Ulcers or sores on the feet and/or legs that heal slowly or not at all.
- It’s difficult to find a pulse in the foot or leg.
- Men may develop symptoms of impotence.
Risk Factors for PAD
It’s possible for anyone to develop PAD. However, there are some factors that heighten your risk. The following are common PAD risk factors:
Smoking. Smokers and former smokers are four times more likely than non-smokers to develop PAD, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Tobacco smoke contains chemicals that can damage blood vessels. Plaque can form as the body tries to heal the damage, which results in atherosclerosis.
Diabetes. Diabetes often causes restriction of blood flow because the disease changes blood chemistry. Another complication with diabetes is that nerve damage is common, and it makes it more difficult for diabetics to feel and give proper care to cuts, scrapes, and other injuries on the legs and feet. Healthy blood flow is important for the healing of wounds, and PAD can prevents wounds from healing, leading to ulcers and sometimes, in severe cases, tissue death.
High blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, you are at an increased risk of developing artherosclerosis, leading to PAD. Although people are often misled regarding high blood pressure, the truth is that it is known as a “silent killer” because it is, for the most part, symptomless. Have your blood pressure checked regularly, so that you can determine whether or not you need to see your physician about high blood pressure.
High cholesterol. Some cholesterol is needed in the body, but a high cholesterol level can result in atherosclerosis. Cholesterol is made up of substances such as calcium and fat that can build up in the form of plaque, which restricts blood flow.
Obesity. A person with a body mass index of 30.0 or higher is obese and at an increased risk for PAD and other heart and vascular diseases.
Older age group. As you get older, particularly after the age of 50, you are at a greater risk of developing artherosclerosis and, therefore, PAD.
Contact Coastal Vascular Center
If you have PAD or if you are concerned that you may have it, contact us at Coastal Vascular Center today. We have a range of treatment options and can work with you on strategies to lower your risk of peripheral artery disease.