If you have unexplainable leg pain, especially after walking or exercising, you could be one of the eight to ten million people in the United States who suffer from Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD.) This condition is often underdiagnosed and untreated, which is a serious problem due to the danger that it can pose.
What is PAD?
Peripheral Artery Disease is the narrowing of the peripheral arteries. While it most commonly affects the legs, it can also be found in the stomach, arms, and head. Arteries begin to narrow when plaque, which consists of cholesterol, calcium, fibrin, and fatty substances, builds on the walls of the artery. The disease restricts the amount of blood flow and raises blood pressure. In severe cases, a blood clot can form and completely stop blood flow, which can result in a stroke or heart attack.
Risks & Symptoms of PAD
Many people who have PAD may not have symptoms, or they may mistake their symptoms for another condition. Most commonly observed symptoms of PAD include:
- Leg pain during exercise, and also at rest
- Leg numbness or weakness
- Wounds of the legs, foot, or toes that do not heal easily
- Decreased temperature of the leg or foot
- Slow nail growth on toes or hair growth on the leg
- Some men experience erectile dysfunction
Patients are more at risk for peripheral artery disease when they:
- Smoke cigarettes
- Have diabetes
- Are obese
- Have high blood pressure & cholesterol
- Are over 50 years of age
- Have a family history of heart issues or strokes
How is PAD Diagnosed?
Peripheral artery disease is painless to diagnose and can be done in a variety of ways. The health care provider will perform a physical examination and determine if there is a weak pulse in the legs, which is a fairly common symptom. In addition, the doctor may perform:
Ankle Brachial Index: This exam will compare the blood pressure in the feet to the blood pressure in the arms. This will help the doctor determine if the patient’s blood pressure is an issue in one area or throughout the body.
Ultrasound: Sound waves allow the doctors to measure blood flow and visualize the artery to determine if there is a blockage.
Angiography: A colored dye is injected into the patient’s blood vessels. Using an imaging device, the doctor will be able to trace the blood flow and blood path to determine what might be causing the issue.
Blood Tests: A blood test will be used to determine if there are other issues, such as diabetes, that could be causing similar symptoms.