Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)

Peripheral Arterial Disease: An under-recognized, slow-burning emergency |  Appalachian Regional Healthcare System

Leg pain and calf pain are often mistaken for either bone and joint disease or neurological disease. Most people have referred these symptoms to the elderly’s condition caused by excessive walking. In fact, these symptoms might potentially indicate peripheral artery disease.

What are peripheral arteries? 

Peripheral arteries are blood vessels that supply blood to the entire body except to the heart and brain. Peripheral arteries circulate blood flow to the limbs and extremities such as the arms, hands, legs and organs in abdominal cavity such as stomach and kidney. Peripheral arteries supply oxygen-rich blood to muscles, bones and nervous system thus its function is as crucial as coronary arteries.

What is peripheral artery disease?

Peripheral artery disease is a narrowing of the peripheral arteries, resulting in reduced blood supply to the limbs and extremities, especially the legs. Peripheral artery disease is often caused by atherosclerosis which is fatty deposits (plaques) built on the artery walls. Atherosclerotic plaques reduce blood flow to the limbs and cause symptoms, most notably leg pain when walking. Factors that increase risks of developing peripheral artery disease include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • High blood cholesterol
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Increasing age

Signs and symptoms of peripheral artery disease

Most common affected area is leg and signs and symptoms include:

  • Painful cramping in the legs or calf muscles after certain activities e.g. walking or climbing stairs (claudication)
  • Leg or foot numbness or weakness. A change in the color of the legs or feet. Coldness in the lower leg or foot.
  • Sores on the feet, heel or legs that do not heal properly. It is usually found in diabetic patients with impaired would healing process. If left untreated, tissue necrosis might develop.

If the condition progresses, pain may occur at rest. Pain may occur in one or both sides of the limbs. If pain is intense, it can disrupt sleep. Hanging legs over the edge of the bed or walking around may temporarily relieve the pain.

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