By Josh Edgerton, MD
Rutherford Surgical Associates
People who experience symptoms such as pain or cramping in the legs often do not report them, believing they are a natural part of aging or due to another cause. However, this could be a sign of clogged arteries and what is called peripheral arterial disease, or P.A.D.
In all, P.A.D. affects 8 to 12 million people in the United States, especially those over 50 years of age. P.A.D. is a common, yet serious, disease. It occurs when extra cholesterol and other fats circulating in the blood collect in the walls of the arteries that supply blood to your limbs. This buildup – called plaque – narrows your arteries, often reducing or blocking the flow of blood.
P.A.D. is most commonly seen in the legs, but also can be present in the arteries that carry blood from your heart to your head, arms, kidneys, and stomach. Nearly everyone who has P.A.D. – even those who do not have leg symptoms – suffers from an inability to walk as fast or as far as they could before P.A.D.
Your risk for P.A.D. increases if you:
● Are over the age of 50
● Smoke or used to smoke
● Have diabetes
● Have high blood pressure
● Have high blood cholesterol
● Have a personal history of vascular disease, heart attack, or stroke
Symptoms include fatigue, heaviness, tiredness, and cramping in the leg muscles during walking or climbing activities. Other signs are leg pain that disturbs sleep, sores or wounds on the toes or feet, color changes in the skin of feet, a lower temperature in one leg as compared to the other, and poor nail growth and decreased hair growth on toes and legs.
If any of this applies to you, the first step is to ask your doctor about your risk for P.A.D. The provider will take a medical and family history, perform a physical exam, and conduct diagnostic tests. You may even be asked to have a simple noninvasive test called an ankle-brachial index (ABI). Painless and easy, the ABI compares the blood pressure readings in your ankles with the blood pressure readings in your arms.
If the blood flow in one of your limbs is completely or almost completely blocked, you may benefit from having a procedure or surgery in addition to medications and lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, eating healthier and becoming more physically active.
Locally, Rutherford Surgical Associates now features a minimally invasive procedure to treat peripheral artery disease and restore circulation. Call 800-424-DOCS to request an appointment with Rutherford Surgical Associates or if Rutherford Regional Health System can assist you in any way.