Peripheral Arterial Disease: Everything You Need to Know

When blood veins in the legs or lower extremities become narrowed or blocked, this is known as a peripheral arterial disease (PAD). Atherosclerosis, or the accumulation of fatty plaque in the arteries, is a significant contributor. Though PAD can occur in any blood vessel, it most frequently affects those in the legs and pelvis.

Plaque (made up of lipids and cholesterol) builds up in the arteries of the legs and limbs, causing a condition known as a peripheral arterial disease (PAD). It then becomes more difficult for your blood to provide oxygen and nutrients to the tissues in those places. Although PAD is a chronic condition, it can be managed with lifestyle changes like regular exercise, a lower-fat diet, and the elimination of tobacco use.

What is a Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD)?

Plaque buildup in the arteries of the legs, which supply the extremities with oxygen and nutrients from the heart, is known as a peripheral arterial disease (PAD), peripheral vascular disease, or peripheral artery disease.

Arteries are tubular, and their interiors are lined with smooth muscle that keeps blood from clotting and encourages a constant blood flow. Plaque (composed of fat, cholesterol, and other chemicals) gradually narrows arteries in people with peripheral arterial disease. Atherosclerosis is another name for this plaque.

Many plaque deposits have a tough exterior but a softer inside. A break or rip in the hard surface invites platelets, disc-shaped particles in the blood that aid in clotting, to the damaged area. Clots of blood can form around the plaque, further restricting blood flow via the artery.

If plaque or a blood clot narrows or blocks your arteries, blood can't reach your organs and tissues to nourish them. The tissues beneath the obstruction suffer damage and finally die (from gangrene). This most frequently affects the toes and feet.

The rate at which PAD worsens varies from person to person and is affected by several factors, such as the location of plaque formation and the individual's general state of health.

Symptoms of PAD

Pain or discomfort in the legs is a common sign of peripheral vascular disease; however, about half of those with the condition don't have any symptoms. When walking, you might also feel weak or weary. Your thighs, buttocks, and calves may be affected.

Symptoms of PAD may not present themselves until later in life, after years of plaque buildup. Most people don't have any noticeable symptoms until their arterial narrowing reaches the 60% mark.

Early Symptoms

One of the initial signs of PAD is often leg pain, cramping, or discomfort, known as intermittent claudication.

  • Grows with activity
  • Rest cures it.
  • Returns when you resume activity

Calf pain is common, although it can also occur in the buttocks or thighs. If you suffer from intermittent claudication, your calf muscles may experience:

  • Numb
  • Weak
  • Heavy
  • Tired

The pain may be too much to bear, making it difficult to take part in favorite pastimes like going to the golf course or playing with the grandchildren.

A lack of blood supply causes this cyclical pain to the muscles in your legs, which disappears when you relax.

Advanced Symptoms

Some possible signs of PAD's later stages are:

  • Aching or burning sensation in the feet and toes when sleeping, particularly at night when lying flat.
  • Cold feet.
  • Changes in skin tone or coloration, such as redness.
  • Frequent infections.
  • Chronic foot and toe wounds that don’t heal.

PAD Causes

Peripheral arterial disease is brought on by the atherosclerosis of the legs and, less frequently, the arms. As with coronary atherosclerosis, peripheral vascular disease is brought on by the buildup of fatty plaque in the walls of the peripheral arteries. Due to plaque buildup, blood arteries gradually get narrower and eventually blocked.

How Can I Prevent PAD?

Knowing that you have PAD risk factors may inspire you to take steps to stop PAD from occurring. The same guidelines for keeping a healthy heart also apply to keeping a generally healthy circulatory system:

  • Take care of your weight.
  • Eat at least five servings of fresh fruits and vegetables daily as part of a low-fat, low-sugar diet.
  • Avoid using any tobacco products.
  • Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, most days of the week, with your doctor's consent.

If you have heart disease, talk to your doctor about your risk factors for PAD and any symptoms you are experiencing, such as pain, weakness, or numbness in your legs.

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