A healthy circulatory system is a vital component of active living. Blood provides oxygen and nutrients to the body, filters waste products and toxins, fights infection and disease, closes and heals wounds, and more.
When blood flow is reduced, the feet and lower legs are often the first to show symptoms. This is called peripheral artery disease (PAD), and in addition to sensory issues and painful cramping, it also can indicate a greatly increased risk of complications like heart attack and stroke.
What’s Causing the Slowdown?
In most cases, PAD is a consequence of a process called atherosclerosis. Over time, fatty deposits (called plaque) made from bad cholesterol build up on the inside of artery walls. This both hardens the affected arteries and narrows the pathway through which blood can flow.
Diabetes is one of the most common associated underlying factors in the development of PAD. Other risk factors include:
- A history of smoking
- High blood pressure and/or cholesterol
- Age (especially in the 50s and beyond)
- Family history
Symptoms and Complications
PAD doesn’t always produce noticeable symptoms, but the most common is occasional cramping in the legs, usually triggered by certain activities such as walking or climbing stairs. Medically, this is known as intermittent claudication.
You may also experience other symptoms, such as:
- Legs that are numb or weak
- Feet that are much colder than the rest of the leg
- Skin that is shiny or discolored
- Hair loss on the lower legs
- Weak pulse in the legs or feet
- Sores that are slow to heal
Many of these symptoms may only seem like minor inconveniences, but you must take them seriously. They are the early warning signs that a more serious problem is building. Narrowed arteries in the feet often mean narrowed arteries elsewhere, and that could mean a stroke or heart attack in your future. Additionally, slow-healing sores or wounds can become infected and ultimately require amputation if not addressed in a timely fashion.
Treatment Options for PAD
Unfortunately, it may not be possible or practical to reverse the narrowing that has already occurred, at least not everywhere throughout the body. However, it is very possible to improve blood flow, manage your symptoms, prevent the arteries from narrowing further, and significantly lower your risk for heart attack and stroke. That’s why it’s so important to take action as soon as you suspect a problem and get a diagnosis.
The single most important decision you can make is committing to a healthy lifestyle. Yes, it may be painful at first, especially if you experience cramping or do not yet have much physical activity in your routine. But a healthy diet, plenty of excise, and above all giving up smoking are absolutely crucial to the success of any treatment plan.
In some cases, lifestyle changes alone are enough—no additional treatment required. For others, medications to help control blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol, or clotting may be required temporarily or indefinitely. When PAD symptoms are more serious, surgical options may also be necessary to open or bypass a particularly tightened artery, or dissolve a clot.
Additional Foot Care for PAD Sufferers
Because PAD increases the risk of foot injury, including sores that can be infected, you will need to take extra care to protect your feet. Give yourself a quick foot exam every day to check for problems like cuts and blisters and ensure they heal in a timely fashion. If they don’t, contact our office immediately, before the problem worsens. You may also benefit from picking up some new shoes or a pair of custom orthotics so that your feet get the support and cushioning they need.
If you notice numbness, cramping, or any other symptoms of PAD in your lower limbs, don’t take a chance! Visit Advanced Foot & Ankle Specialists of Arizona for a screening and possible treatment options. To make an appointment in Gilbert or Chandler, fill out our contact form or give us a call at (480) 963-9000.