Peripheral artery disease (PAD)—also known as peripheral arterial disease or peripheral vascular disease (PVD)—is a circulatory system disorder that narrows the blood vessels far from the heart, and most often the legs and feet.
When circulation is compromised, you can’t heal from injuries as quickly or fight infections as effectively. Nerves, muscles, and other tissues can’t get the nutrients they need. If a blood vessel becomes totally blocked, tissue death (gangrene) and even amputation may result. Although PAD is very serious, it is easy to test for and can be managed effectively with lifestyle changes and medication.
Symptoms and Risks of PAD
Signs of compromised blood flow in feet and legs include:
- Cramping in legs, especially after exercise or climbing stairs
- Legs that feel cold or numb, or change color
- Muscle weakness
- Slower-than-normal growth of leg hair and toenails
- Weak pulse in legs and feet
- Cuts and sores on feet do not heal
If you have PAD, you are at increased risk for serious medical complications including:
- Foot wounds that can become infected
- Heart attack
What Causes PAD?
The most common cause of PAD is a condition known as atherosclerosis. Essentially, fatty tissues called plaque slowly deposit themselves on the interior walls of arteries. These deposits are made from cholesterol, cellular waste products, calcium, fibrin, and other substances. As they accumulate, artery walls get thicker and the available opening for blood to flow gets smaller and smaller.
Contributing risk factors include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Age (especially over 50)
- Family history
How Do I Stop PAD?
If you’re over 50, you have diabetes, you have a family history of cardiovascular disease, or you’ve observed any of the symptoms associated with PAD, you should book an appointment with our team for a routine screening. Testing for PAD is quick, easy, and painless, so there’s no sense in waiting too long.
The atherosclerosis that has already occurred may not be easily reversible, but you can manage your symptoms and prevent your condition from worsening.
Living a healthy life is a critical component of treatment. For some people, lifestyle changes alone will be sufficient to halt PAD progression. Others may additionally require medication, but medication cannot replace healthy living. Strategies include:
- Quit smoking
- Eat healthy meals
- Exercise regularly—at least 30 minutes at a time, 3-4 times per week at minimum. Your doctor may need to approve an exercise plan beforehand if you are at increased injury risk from certain activities.
- Manage your blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels as well as possible
- Maintain a healthy body weight
Medicines and Surgery
Depending on your age, underlying conditions, and severity of your PAD, several additional medicinal treatments may be prescribed or recommended:
- Medications to lower cholesterol or blood pressure.
- Blood thinners. These can help improve blood flow and reduce the risk of dangerous blood clots.
- Medications to relieve painful symptoms.
In severe cases where an artery is almost entirely blocked, a more aggressive surgical approach may be required:
- A balloon on the end of a catheter is inserted into the blocked artery and inflated to flatten the plaque and widen the available space for blood flow (angioplasty).
- A transplanted or synthetic blood vessel is grafted around a blocked artery, allowing blood to bypass the blockage (bypass surgery).
- A clot-dissolving drug is injected directly into the artery in order to break it up (thrombolytic therapy).