Understanding Peripheral Arterial Disease

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An artery is a muscular-walled blood vessel that transports oxygenated (oxygen-rich) blood and nutrients from the heart to other parts of the body. The inner lining of the artery is smooth and flexible, allowing blood to circulate freely. When active, the muscles take up (utilized) the oxygen in the blood.

Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is a common, but serious circulatory problem. It arises as a result of a narrowed artery, which effectively reduces the rate of blood flow. There are a number of associated risk factors which make this dangerous. Arteries become stiffer and their walls thicken as we age. Smoking and consumption of high cholesterol diets increase the risks of PAD by further clogging the artery. As PAD develops, your legs and feet don’t receive enough blood flow to keep performing normally. A noticeable symptom is a pain in the leg while walking.

Aside from the legs, it is possible to have PAD in arteries that carry blood from the heart to the head, arms, kidney, and stomach. When the large arteries in the neck (carotid) are clogged up, there is a shortage in the supply of blood to the brain. This is a major cause of stroke.

According to Center for Disease Control and Prevention, An estimated 8.5 million people in the United States have peripheral artery disease, affecting approximately 12-20 percent of Americans over 60.

Symptoms of Peripheral Artery Disease

Most people living with peripheral artery disease show few or no symptoms at all. Those who experience pain while walking are suffering from claudication.
Symptoms of claudication include cramps in the leg and muscle pain. Such pain disappears after a period of rest. Severe claudication could give rise to excruciating pain and difficulty in walking or taking part in any physical activity.

Other symptoms include weakness in the leg, sore toes, slower growth of the toenails, slow or weak pulse in your legs and feet, and erectile dysfunction in men.
In advanced stages of peripheral artery disease, you may still experience ischemic rest pain (pain while resting or lying down).

Causes and Risk Factors of Peripheral Artery Disease

Atherosclerosis is a major cause of peripheral artery disease. In atherosclerosis, fatty deposits (plaques) build up within the artery, narrowing the blood vessel diameter and reducing blood flow. Atherosclerosis does not affect all the arteries in the body. The location of the plaque buildup thus determines which artery is affected and the resultant symptoms.

Peripheral artery disease could also be caused by blood vessel inflammation, exposure to radiation and injury to the limbs. These, however, are not major causes of peripheral artery disease.

Risk factors associated with PAD are smoking, obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and a family history of peripheral artery disease.

How to Prevent Peripheral Artery Disease

A change of lifestyle is the most effective way to prevent PAD. For smokers, quitting smoking will greatly reduce your chance of developing PAD. Similarly, a moderate exercise plan will reduce PAD risks. It just takes regular physical activity. Most medical professionals recommend exercising for 30 minutes, three to four times a week. Diet is also important. Consume foods that are low in saturated fat and keep your blood sugar under control if you are diabetic.

Treatment of Peripheral Artery Disease

The goal of treatment is to manage symptoms and prevent the progression of atherosclerosis. If you are at risk for PAD or already experiencing symptoms, start today. It’s not easy for most individuals to quit smoking and adopt healthier diet and exercise habits. However, any improvement is a good start, and you can build on that over time. Your doctor can also prescribe medication that prevents blood clots, controls blood sugar, reduces high blood pressure and relieves symptoms.

If Peripheral Artery Disease is left untreated, you stand the risk of further complication like stroke, heart attack, and critical limb ischemia.

At Houston Foot and Ankle Care, our focus is on serving your podiatry needs. Conditions like PAD are frequently cited by our patients among the conditions that complicate leg pain and other podiatric problems. If you are aware that PAD, neuropathy, atherosclerosis or diabetes is contributing to foot or ankle issues, schedule an appointment with Gabriel Maislos, DPM, FACFAS. We accept most major medical insurance.

Call (713) 541-3199 if you experience:

  • pain in the lower leg
  • tingling or numbness in the foot
  • swelling or redness in the foot and ankle

Houston Foot and Ankle