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Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD): Symptoms, Causes & Prevention
Boldsky | 6th Jan, 2019 10:35 AM

Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD), also called as peripheral vascular disease (PVD) is the abnormal narrowing of arteries in the leg. It is a common circulatory problem where the narrowing of the arteries will reduce the blood flow to the limbs. If you develop PAD, your legs will receive the required amount of blood causing your legs to be in constant pain while walking.

The condition also causes skin ulcers, a colour change in your skin and abnormal nail and hair growth in the affected area. PAD can also be an indicator of an accumulation of fat deposits in the arteries, a condition termed as atherosclerosis. It can reduce the blood flow to your brain, heart and leg.

PAD is considered to be the central risk factor causing stroke and heart attack. Studies have pointed out that men are more likely to develop the condition than women. Also, it is commonly found in regular smokers.

Symptoms Of Peripheral Artery Disease

In most cases, individuals suffering from the condition does not develop any signs, apart from leg pain while walking which usually disappears after a few minutes of rest. This condition is medically termed as intermittent claudication. The leg pain can vary, ranging from mild to severe and affects both the legs, with more pain concentrated on a single leg.

The symptoms of PAD include

  • painful cramping in one or both of your hips, thighs or calf muscles after walking or climbing stairs,
  • weakness and numbness in your legs,
  • coldness in your lower leg or foot, especially when compared with the other side,
  • ulcers and open sores on your toes, feet or legs that won't heal,
  • a change in the colour of your legs, mostly blue or pale,
  • hair loss or slow hair growth on the feet and legs,
  • slower growth of toenails,
  • shiny skin on the legs,
  • weak pulse or no pulse in the legs or feet, and
  • erectile dysfunction in men.

The symptoms of PAD usually elevates over time, slowly. If the symptoms are developing at a fast pace, it could be an indication of a severe problem which will require immediate medical attention.

Causes Of Peripheral Artery Disease

Studies have revealed that atherosclerosis is the most common reason behind the condition. Atherosclerosis causes your artery walls to be filled with fatty deposits, thereby blocking and reducing the blood flow. The plaques called as atheroma, made of water substances and cholesterol will build upon the artery walls of your legs. By affecting the blood supplying arteries, the condition limits the blood supply into your limbs.

The other factors causing the condition are

  • blood vessel inflammation ,
  • limb injuries,
  • unusual anatomy of ligaments or muscles, and
  • radiation exposure .
Risk Factors Of Peripheral Artery Disease

There are various aspects that can elevate your chances of developing the condition and it include

  • smoking,
  • high blood pressure,
  • diabetes (type 1 and type 2),
  • high cholesterol,
  • obesity,
  • a family history of heart disease, stroke or peripheral artery disease,
  • ageing, especially after 50 years of age, and
  • high levels of homocysteine(protein component that helps build and maintain tissue).

The highest risk factor is smoking as it reduces the blood flow, and men tend to develop the condition quickly than women.

Complications Of Peripheral Artery Disease

It has to be noted that the condition is not life-threatening, but atherosclerosis (the process that develops PAD) can lead to serious problems. If left untreated, atherosclerosis can become potentially fatal. The complications pertaining to PAD are as follows.

1. Critical limb ischaemia (CLI)

This condition develops when the blood flow to your legs become severely limited. CLI is extremely severe in nature and can become challenging to be treated. CLI can develop the following symptoms;

  • Loss of leg muscle mass.
  • Severe burning pain in legs and feet that do not recede even after resting.
  • Wounds, ulcers and an open sore on feet and legs that do not heal.
  • Skin turning pale, smooth and dry.
  • Injuries and infections causing a condition called as gangrene, where the skin on toes or lower limbs becomes cold and numb or begins to swell and produce foul-smelling pus, causing severe pain. The condition can even result in amputating the affected limb.
2. Coronary heart disease (CHD)

The build-up of plaques in the arteries in the leg can affect other parts of your body too. It can affect the arteries that supply to the brain and heart. Therefore, PAD can result in the development of other forms of cardiovascular diseases such as

  • stroke,
  • coronary heart diseases,
  • angina, and
  • heart attack.
Diagnosis Of Peripheral Artery Disease

If you think that you may be suffering from PAD, go to a doctor immediately. In order to diagnose the disease, the doctor will conduct a number of tests.

1. Ankle-brachial index (ABI)

One of the common tests used to diagnose the condition, ABI will be carried out by comparing the blood pressure in your arm with that of the blood pressure in your ankle. This may require you to walk on a treadmill, where the doctor will take readings before and after exercising, so as to analyse and examine the severity of the arteries.

2. Physical exam

The doctor will be able to find signs and symptoms of the condition such as a weak or absent pulse and whooshing sounds over the arteries. The doctor will also check the poor wound healing and low blood pressure in the affected area.

3. Angiography

Under this test, the doctor will use a dye which will be injected into your arteries so as to analyse the blood flow through the arteries. Using X-ray imaging, magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) or computerized tomography angiography (CTA), the doctor will be able to trace the blood flow. Catheter angiography is also used but is a more invasive procedure.

4. Ultrasound

Techniques such as Doppler ultrasound will be used to evaluate the blood flow, where the doctor will be able to identify and examine any blocked or narrowed arteries.

5. Blood tests

A blood sample of yours will be used to measure triglycerides and cholesterol levels to check if you have diabetes or not.

Treatment For Peripheral Artery Disease

The intention of doctoring the condition is firstly, to manage the painful symptoms that restrict one's daily physical activities. And to end the elevation of atherosclerosis in your body, so as to reduce the risk of developing stroke or heart attacks.

In the early course of PAD, you can divert the condition by adopting changes in your lifestyle such as quitting the smoking habit if you are a smoker. In case of severe signs and symptoms, there is a need to get medical treatment. Your doctor may prescribe you with a set of medications to help lower the cholesterol, blood pressure, pain and the other symptoms. The medications will include

  • high blood pressure medications,
  • cholesterol lowering medications,
  • medications to prevent blood clots,
  • medication to control blood sugar, and
  • symptom-relief medications that will help get relief from the agonizing symptoms of PAD.

However, in some cases where the condition has become severe, surgeries and therapies will be required. The doctor will ask you to undergo procedures such as angioplasty, bypass surgery or thrombolytic therapy.

Prevention Of Peripheral Artery Disease

By maintaining a healthy lifestyle, you will be able to hinder the onset of the condition. The best preventive methods are as follows:

  • Quit smoking, as it can damage your arteries and is a central cause towards the development of PAD.
  • Exercise on a regular basis, as it helps condition your muscles towards the effective use of oxygen.
  • If you are suffering from diabetes, make sure to maintain your blood sugar in control.
  • Follow a healthy diet, avoid foods that have high saturated fat content.
  • Maintain your (healthy) weight.
   
 
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