It would be difficult to overstate the importance of blood circulation in your body. This is a vital system that ensures all body parts receive the oxygen and nutrients they need to live and grow. When circulation is impaired, it can potentially lead to serious medical issues. Such is the case with a condition known as peripheral arterial disease (PAD).
Your feet are the farthest points of your body from your heart. Oxygenated blood has to make quite the trip down there, even when everything is running smoothly. When PAD enters the picture your blood flow can be compromised.
Peripheral Arterial Disease Causes, Risk Factors, and Symptoms
Peripheral artery disease is commonly caused by atherosclerosis, which is a condition where fatty deposits (plaques) build up along your artery walls and reduce blood flow. Although people often focus on the heart when discussing atherosclerosis, this disease can (and usually does) affect many different arteries throughout your body, including those supplying blood to your lower limbs.
Risk factors for peripheral arterial disease include smoking, obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, family history, and age. The condition tends to be more commonly seen in patients who are over 50 years of age.
Unfortunately, symptoms are not always present with PAD, which means there are individuals who have a heightened risk of serious complications but are unaware that there is a problem. When symptoms are present, they include:
- Claudication, which is painful cramping in leg and hip muscles following certain activities (like walking or climbing stairs)
- Weakness or numbness in the legs
- Coldness in a foot or lower leg, especially in comparison to the other limb
- Wounds on the lower body that will not heal
- Change of color in the skin on your lower body
- Slower than normal growth, or loss, of hair on your legs and feet
- Slower than normal toenail growth
- A weak or nonexistent pulse in the feet or legs
- Abnormally shiny skin on your legs
Complications of Peripheral Arterial Disease
There are two serious complications that can accompany atherosclerosis:
- Critical limb ischemia – The body relies on natural healing processes to heal sores and fight off infection. A restricted blood flow does not adequately provide the antibodies and nutrients necessary for tissue repair. This means infections and injuries can progress to the point they cause gangrene (tissue death), which may require amputation.
- Increased risk of heart attack and stroke – While you may observe symptoms in your lower limbs, atherosclerosis is not limited to just your legs. The arteries supplying blood to your brain and heart can also have fatty deposits that restrict blood flow and could result in either a heart attack or stroke.
Treating PAD – At Home and With Professional Care
There are some measures you can take on your own to help improve the condition. These include things like quitting smoking, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, and avoiding certain cold medications (particularly those containing pseudoephedrine).
Smoking is one of the most serious offenders when it comes to PAD. The habit constricts and damages arteries, so quitting is the single most important thing you can do to lower your risk of medical complications.
Exercise is beneficial because it promotes heart health, circulation, and also conditions muscles to more efficiently use oxygen. We can help you create an appropriate exercise plan that reduces your risk of PAD and also keeps you safe from other issues.
In addition to lifestyle changes, you may also benefit from professional treatment options. These can include medications, angioplasty, and surgical procedures.When you recognize any of the symptoms of peripheral arterial disease, contact Foot & Ankle Associates of Florida for the earliest possible appointment. We can diagnose the condition and then get you started on an appropriate treatment plan. Either give us a call at 407-339-7759 or 352-589-9550 (if you call from Lake County) or use our online form to request your appointment with one of our five Florida offices today.