Peripheral Artery Disease

What is Peripheral Artery Disease?

Peripheral Artery Disease, which is also referred to as PAD, is a condition that causes the peripheral arteries to constrict. These include the arteries of the head, arms, stomach, and legs, but the legs are most often affected.

PAD is caused by atherosclerosis. Plaque causes the narrowing and blockage of arteries that are located in critical locations throughout the body. When severe, the blood flow is blocked to the point that the tissues could die, forcing amputation of the leg or foot.

What are the Symptoms of Peripheral Artery Disease?

Peripheral artery disease doesn’t always cause symptoms. When symptoms do occur, however, they include:

  • Numbness, heaviness, achiness, or pain within the legs, particularly when climbing stairs or walking
  • An absent or a weak pulse in the feet or legs
  • Wounds or sores that develop on the legs, feet, or toes (these will heal poorly or slowly, if at all)
  • One leg could have a lower temperature than the other, or legs could feel colder than arms
  • There could be a bluish color of the skin, or the skin could be pale
  • Decreased hair on the legs, and poor nail growth of the toes

Peripheral Artery Disease Causes

While the majority of peripheral artery disease cases are the result of atherosclerosis, the overall mechanism of atherosclerosis itself is not completely understood. However, there are several known risk factors that lead to atherosclerosis and subsequently, peripheral artery disease.

Main risk factors include lifestyle aspects including a high fat diet, lack of exercise, high sugar intake, and smoking. All of these factors lead to inflammation and plaque buildup, causing arterial insufficiency, or peripheral artery disease. By extension, there are chronic conditions that lead to peripheral artery disease as well. These include diabetes mellitus or insulin resistance, hypercholesterolemia, and hypertension. Though it is noted that most cases of peripheral artery disease are a result of atherosclerosis, there are other causative factors. Peripheral artery disease related to these causes is known as functional peripheral artery disease

How is Peripheral Artery Disease Treated?

The biggest risk factor for peripheral artery disease is smoking, so quitting will help reduce your risk. Diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and high cholesterol are also risk factors for PAD, so treating those conditions with lifestyle changes can also help.

Other treatment options include surgery and procedures to restore blood flow, as well as medications. Medications that could treat PAD include pentoxifylline, aspirin, anti-clotting medicines, and cilostazol.

Some of the lifestyle changes that are recommended to those suffering with PAD include exercise, diet changes, and other efforts that could help to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol.

Peripheral Artery Disease Prevention

There are many methods to reduce the risk of developing peripheral artery disease. It is essential to consider lifestyle changes as preventative measures. This includes maintaining a healthy diet low in added sugars and saturated fat. Additionally, maintaining a regular exercise regiment is an effective strategy in preventing the conditions that lead to peripheral artery disease. Smoking cessation is a very important step in prevention as well, as this is a major causative factor in a number of cardiovascular conditions.

If some chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, or hypercholesterolemia are already present, it is imperative to properly manage them to prevent the development of peripheral artery disease. In regard to functional peripheral artery disease, using stress management strategies, seeking treatment for drug use, as well as proper protections when in cold weather and working with heavy machinery, are effective preventative measures.