Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) is a severe medical condition common in the US. Although many people have the disease, few pay attention to the symptoms until it has progressed. Knowing what symptoms to look for is the best way to protect your health from a life-threatening heart attack or stroke. At Zenith Vascular & Fibroid Center, TN, we specialize in the detection and treatment of PAD.
What Is Peripheral Arterial Disease?
Peripheral Arterial Disease (also known as PAD) is a circulatory disease that occurs when narrowed or blocked arteries constrict blood flow. This common condition affects the limbs, particularly the legs and feet, to create pain or numbness. According to the CDC, PAD affects 8.5 million Americans aged 40 or older. Men and women are equally susceptible to developing the condition.
What Causes PAD?
Arteries are the hollow circular tubes that transport blood throughout the body. In a healthy state, arteries are smooth, stretchy and very effective in moving blood. PAD is caused by the accumulation of fatty deposits inside the arteries.
When fat builds up, it prevents blood from moving as fluidly, thus resulting in inadequate circulation. Other matter in the blood may stick to the built-up fat to create injury or an inflammatory response. Arterial fat accumulation, combined with any of the attached matter, is called plaque.
Plaque in the arteries comes in different sizes but is mostly encased in a hard outer shell. If this shell breaks to expose vulnerable tissue inside, blood platelets rush to the area to form a blood clot. This clotting constricts blood flow and narrows the artery further, which generally results in noticeable symptoms.
Arteries can become permanently damaged or die altogether when obstructed by plaque or a blood clot. Arterial death or gangrene occurs most frequently in the feet and toes and can make amputation necessary.
Why Is Treating Peripheral Arterial Disease Important?
There isn’t a cure for PAD, but treating treatment is crucial for maintaining health. PAD means that your blood vessels aren’t working as they should. Everything in the body is connected, and the blood vessels play a critical role in protecting your health. Without treatment, this condition can lead to life-threatening cardiovascular diseases such as:
- Coronary heart disease
- Heart attack
Untreated PAD can also lead to permanent tissue death that may require amputating the affected limb.
What Are the Symptoms of Peripheral Arterial Disease?
Sometimes PAD doesn’t present any symptoms, which can make detecting the condition difficult. When symptoms are present, it’s essential to seek medical help promptly to mitigate damage to the arteries and your overall health.
PAD pain (claudication) is often the first thing an individual may notice. Still, many people explain the discomfort of cramping away, thinking it’s a result of physical activity. Often symptoms aren’t present until the condition has advanced. Please contact us if you experience any of the following symptoms.
Limb Discomfort or Pain
PAD can create pain in any region where an artery is blocked and usually happens after exerting yourself physically. You may experience discomfort, pain, or cramping in your:
- Calf muscles
This pain or discomfort usually subsides after resting for several minutes but can be debilitating enough that you can’t walk.
Numbness or Weakness
If one of your limbs isn’t functioning at full capacity, it could be a sign of PAD. Weak or numb legs is often a sign that an artery isn’t pushing blood adequately. Weakness or numbness isn’t as dramatic as the pain PAD can cause. However, it’s still a symptom that requires medical investigation.
If you notice that one of your lower legs or feet is colder than the other, it could be a symptom of PAD. Temperature changes happen when the blood is not circulating adequately. A marked change in temperature can also be a sign of heart problems, so don’t ignore this symptom.
Patients with PAD, especially those with concurrent diabetes, sometimes notice sores on the feet, toes, or legs that do not heal. It should only take about a week for most wounds to begin to regrow new tissue. Usually, it only takes three weeks at most for a wound to heal completely. If you have a sore that never seems to go away, it could be a sign of PAD.
Changes in Leg Color
If you notice a difference in the color of one of your legs, it could be a sign of PAD. Many PAD patients notice a bluish tint to one of their legs. When a leg changes color, it could mean that it isn’t receiving enough oxygen or health-promoting nutrients.
Hair Loss on Feet or Legs
A loss of blood flow can impact hair growth on the limbs. Don’t overlook this symptom. If you are not growing hair on your feet, legs, or toes where you once were, it’s time to schedule an appointment with us.
PAD often creates changes to the toenails, but these changes vary from person to person. You may experience slower toenail growth or changes in the color or thickness of your nails.
No Pulse in Legs or Feet
Check for a pulse in your legs and feet to monitor for PAD. Press on the back of the knee or the lower portion of the foot’s arch to check for blood flow. If you don’t feel a pulsing sensation as you would on your wrist or neck, you could be experiencing a blockage.
Thinning skin on your legs, feet, or other limbs can be a symptom of PAD. Sometimes this skin takes on a shiny appearance, but it is almost always much thinner than it once was.
Erectile Dysfunction (ED)
For men, one symptom of PAD is ED. When blood is obstructed in one part of the body, it can impact other regions.
PAD Risk Factors
PAD is a common disease that anyone can develop. Because it is sometimes asymptomatic in the early stages, it’s crucial to recognize any of the risk factors that could contribute to developing the condition. There are several significant risk factors for developing PAD:
Individuals who smoke tobacco or have a history of smoking are more likely to develop PAD than others. Tobacco smoke contains thousands of chemicals that can accelerate the accumulation of plaque in the arteries and significant inflammation in the body. It is also the most frequent cause of PAD.
High Blood Pressure
Consistently high blood pressure is another risk factor for developing PAD. High blood pressure is also a risk factor for heart attack and stroke. It’s imperative to keep blood pressure in a healthy range.
Cholesterol is vital for digestion and other bodily functions, but too much can do more harm than good. Cholesterol is a blood fat produced by the liver. Excess cholesterol in the bloodstream creates plaque in the arteries, which can lead to PAD. Eating a diet of refined grains and sugars causes the liver to produce excessive amounts of cholesterol.
Individuals with diabetes are at an increased risk for developing PAD because their blood vessels are already more narrow because of hormonal changes. If you have diabetes, it’s particularly important to get tested for PAD because nerve damage can prevent you from feeling the PAD symptoms.
Your body weight is a contributing factor to PAD development. Individuals who are obese are more likely to develop PAD, heart disease, vascular conditions, and stroke.
Individuals 50 or older have an increased risk of developing plaque accumulation in the arteries.
Kidney Disease (Cause and Effect)
The kidneys are sensitive to changes in blood flow, which makes those with chronic kidney disease at an increased risk of PAD complications. Conversely, those with PAD may experience kidney problems as a result of low blood flow.
History of Coronary Artery Disease or Stroke
If you or someone in your family history has struggled with coronary artery disease, cardiovascular disease, or stroke, you are more likely to develop PAD. African Americans have almost twice the risk of developing PAD as those of other genetic backgrounds. Find out if your parents, grandparents, or other family members have had heart attacks, angina, bypass surgery, or other heart problems. Talk to your doctor about preventive steps you can take.
How Is PAD Detected?
We use several tests to diagnose PAD. If you or someone you know experiences any of the symptoms or have any of the risk factors for the disease, please contact us for testing. During your visit, we may use a combination of the following diagnostic methods to look for the presence of arterial plaque build-up:
During your physical exam, we’ll look for all the most prevalent signs of PAD. We’ll check for a weak or absent pulse, impaired wound healing, reduced blood pressure, and whooshing sounds over the arteries.
Ankle-Brachial Index (ABI)
An ABI is one of the most common tests used to diagnose PAD. We compare the blood pressure in different limbs to get a reading. This test uses a traditional blood pressure cuff with an ultrasound tool to evaluate blood flow. Often this test is performed while the patient moves for the most accurate results.
We may use ultrasound imaging technology to view your arteries and blood flow. This non-invasive technique allows us to deliver a picture of the inside of your body without surgery.
An angiography uses a contrasting dye to highlight blood vessels for inspection with imaging techniques like an x-ray or ultrasound. Angiography is a highly effective method for assessing blood flow and identifying plaque build-up.
We may test your blood to measure the levels of cholesterol and triglycerides or to check for diabetes.
Preparing for an Appointment
If you are a smoker, the most important thing you can do to prepare for your appointment is to quit smoking. Smoking is the number one contributing factor for PAD. Several other lifestyle changes can help, including:
- Adopting a healthy diet
- Exercising regularly
- Losing weight
- Taking detailed notes of all the symptoms of PAD you’ve observed
Treatment for PAD
PAD is not curable, but there are many health benefits to seeking treatment. The goal of treatment is to manage symptoms, prevent any further damage while reducing your risk of heart disease or stroke. Treatment for PAD comes with both lifestyle changes and medical intervention.
Every PAD treatment plan is personalized, and we can help you get on track. We may recommend medication to help with blood pressure, blood sugar, blood clotting, cholesterol, smoking cessation, or symptom relief. Other measures may be necessary, depending on your circumstances. We’ll discuss your personalized treatment plan in-depth at your appointment.
Symptoms of Peripheral Arterial Disease aren’t always noticeable, but paying attention to your body can help you detect this debilitating condition early. Getting tested is the best way to maintain and restore your health and vitality. Contact us today at Zenith Vascular & Fibroid Center in Memphis, TN to schedule your appointment.