The average “person on the street,” if asked to list the symptoms of peripheral arterial disease (PAD), would probably say, “I don’t know.” Doctors Shawn Fleming and Joel Deonanan, among the best vascular specialists in Winston-Salem at NHVS, would say that this lack of knowledge is a little alarming.
PAD is, after all, an incredibly serious public health problem, one that affects 1 in 20 Americans over the age of 50. It’s a potentially life-threatening condition that very few people know the symptoms of. One reason that PAD has seen a 23% increase worldwide in the last decade is that people don’t know its symptoms, and thus don’t report those symptoms to their doctors. They mistake the chronic fatigue and cramping leg pain they experience as “normal signs of aging.”
They’re not. That’s why the peripheral arterial disease specialists at NHVS have written this article. We want to help people learn more about the symptoms of PAD, so that they recognize them and tell their doctors about them.
Risk factors for PAD
Before you read about the often-ignored symptoms we list below, you need to know that they are not always indicators of PAD. But they might be if you have a number of risk factors that increase your chances of developing it. These include:
- Being over the age of 50
- Smoking, or having a history of being a smoker
- Being overweight, especially if you are not physically active
- Having diabetes, high blood pressure, or abnormal cholesterol levels
- Having a personal or family history of heart disease or stroke
The most common ignored symptom of PAD is intermittent claudication
The term “intermittent claudication” isn’t nearly as scary as it sounds. It refers to weakness, leg pain, heaviness, and cramping in the muscles of the legs and feet. This cramping leg pain most often occurs when you are walking, climbing stairs, or exercising. The pain tends to go away when the activity stops, or when you stop and rest. This is the symptom that most people dismiss as “signs of aging.”
There are other common symptoms that may be indications of PAD
- Burning pain in the toes and feet, especially if you feel this pain even when you are at rest, or if it disturbs your sleep
- If the skin of one leg feels colder to the touch than the other leg
- If you notice weak or absent pulses in the legs and feet
The most alarming symptoms of PAD are caused by impaired circulation
Peripheral arterial disease reduces the amount of blood that can be pumped through your arteries. This impairs your circulation, and means that the skin and tissues of your legs and feet don’t get the oxygen and nutrients they need to stay healthy, or to heal if they are damaged.
For example, you might notice physical changes on your legs and feet. They might appear pale or blue, develop patches of shiny skin, or demonstrate poor hair and nail growth. In men, the impaired circulation caused by PAD can also result in erectile dysfunction.
Probably the most alarming symptom of PAD, however, is the appearance of sores and wounds on the feet and legs that don’t heal within a month of their first appearance. Wounds on the feet that don’t heal can lead to serious conditions such as critical limb ischemia, which can result in lower limb amputation.
So if you are over 50, be watchful for any of these symptoms, and contact your doctor if you experience them. Or give the experts at NHVS a call at 336-245-4890 or go online to schedule an appointment with them for a vascular health screening. The sooner you detect PAD, the sooner you can start treating it.