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Peripheral Arterial Disease

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Peripheral arterial disease is a condition where plaque builds up in the arteries that supplies blood to the leg muscles. To many people, the condition is also known as peripheral vascular disease.

What is Peripheral Arterial Disease?

Peripheral arterial disease or PAD occurs in people when the leg arteries become narrow or clogged with plaque (fatty deposit). This plaque buildup occurs over the years due to a condition called atherosclerosis. Plaque causes the artery walls to harden and become narrow. This restricts the blood flow to the legs and feet. So, it results in poor blood circulation.

It is not necessary that only the arteries of the legs are affected. It could affect other arteries that carry blood away from the heart. When the arteries within the heart are affected, it results in coronary artery disease or cardiovascular disease.

Peripheral artery disease causes a lot of leg pain and can result in disability. If left untreated, it could lead to increase in risk of heart disease.

Symptoms of Peripheral Arterial Disease

It takes many years for peripheral arterial disease to build up. The symptoms are seen only when the artery is clogged 60% or more. The initial symptoms of peripheral arterial disease include:

  • Leg discomfort
  • Pain
  • Cramping in leg muscles with activity that gets relieved with rest
  • Pain in calf radiating to the buttocks and thighs

In the later stage, symptoms progress to:

  • Numbness
  • Weakness
  • Heaviness of leg muscles
  • Fatigue in muscles with walking that is relieved by rest

Other symptoms that indicate peripheral arterial disease include:

  • Burning or aching pain in feet and toes, especially at night or when resting
  • Redness or color changes of skin on the leg
  • Frequent leg infection
  • Skin on feet feels cold to touch
  • Sores on toes and heel that take time to heal
  • Slow growth of toenails
  • Erectile dysfunction in men

Causes of Peripheral Arterial Disease

The main reason for peripheral arterial disease is atherosclerosis. This is a condition where plaque or cholesterol deposits on the artery walls. Thus, reducing blood flow to the legs. It could also occur due to a leg injury, blood vessel inflammation or exposure to radiation that causes narrowing of artery walls.

Risk Factors for Peripheral Arterial Disease

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When one or more of the following risk factors are present in an individual, it increases the chances of PAD:

Detection of Peripheral Arterial Disease

A physical examination will be conducted to check for a weak or absent pulse of the arteries. A screening test for peripheral arterial disease called the Ankle-brachial index (ABI) will be conducted. A complete lipid test along with an angiography and ultrasound will confirm the presence or absence of peripheral arterial disease.

Treatment for Peripheral Arterial Disease

Peripheral arterial disease treatment aims at reducing the leg pain and to stop atherosclerosis from progressing. The doctor will, thus, recommend medications such as:

  • Cholesterol-reducing medications
  • High blood pressure medications
  • Diabetes medications
  • Pain killers
  • Blood thinners

A major lifestyle change will also be recommended. This includes no smoking, reduced drinking, eating healthy, less fat, salt, sugar foods and exercises.

In cases, where one develops intermittent claudication, surgery is recommended. These surgeries include:

  • Angioplasty
  • Bypass surgery

Complications of Peripheral Arterial Disease

Peripheral arterial disease leads to serious complications that can be life-threatening. The disease increases the of:

If you are experiencing pain in the legs and other related symptoms, get yourself checked. Early detection will help relieve the symptoms and prevent development of other serious diseases.

Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: March 29, 2015

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