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HomeHealthHidden Signs of Peripheral Artery Disease

Hidden Signs of Peripheral Artery Disease

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) develops gradually, often unnoticed in the early stages. However, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing PAD. The first step is to understand how it occurs, determine your risk, and recognize the symptoms.

PAD occurs when certain arteries, typically in the legs, narrow due to plaque buildup, restricting proper blood flow to your limbs. Some people may not experience symptoms, or may disregard them if they are mild at first. Ignoring the condition can lead to gangrene and potential limb amputation. Additionally, buildup in blood vessels supplying the heart or brain can also lead to heart attack or stroke. Detecting PAD early is crucial to prevent these serious consequences.

“The biggest problem that we see is people coming in late in a delayed fashion,” says Michael S. Conte, MD, professor and chief of the Vascular and Endovascular Surgery Division at the University of California, San Francisco.

“[They’re] waiting too long, thinking it’s nothing, thinking it’s old age, thinking that this spot on their foot will go away and waiting for things for so long that then we have to do really complicated surgeries and interventions to save a leg,” Comte says.

The three main risk factors for PAD are age, diabetes, and smoking.

Age. The disease is rare in people under age 50 unless they have a history of diabetes or smoking.

Diabetes. High blood sugar can lead to plaque buildup in artery walls, and when coupled with PAD, increases the risk of limb amputation in diabetic patients.

Smoking. Worsens arterial constriction and damage, increasing the chances of PAD by 400% and causing symptoms almost a decade earlier.

PAD can occur as a result of radiation in the neck or legs. Other factors that elevate PAD risk include obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and a family history of PAD, heart disease, or stroke. Men are more likely to develop PAD than women, with Black and Native American individuals being disproportionately affected.

PAD usually develops gradually over time, and symptoms may vary from person to person. Common symptoms include leg pain or weakness, especially while walking, and other signs such as coldness in a lower leg or foot compared to the other side, sores that won’t heal, and changes in skin color and hair growth.

The reason some people may not experience typical PAD symptoms is still somewhat unclear. Other diseases can mask the symptoms of PAD, or the location of the blockage can affect what is felt. If diagnosed with PAD, a doctor may prescribe medication, recommend lifestyle changes, and encourage walking and regular exercise.

‘The goal is not to avoid pain,’ Aday says. ‘It’s to become comfortable with that pain in the legs, push yourself to that point of having pain — if you need to rest, that’s fine — but then continuing on. The big-picture goal is increasing [your] functional capability.’

Walking is also beneficial for controlling PAD risk factors such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Eating a healthy diet and checking and washing your feet daily are also important steps in managing PAD symptoms and preventing further complications.

Taking walks can also help you control PAD risk factors such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Eating healthy foods and checking and washing your feet every day are also essential steps in managing PAD symptoms and preventing further problems.


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