Peripheral Arterial Disease – and Your Legs PAD. It’s Worse Than It Sounds

Pain… Pain in your leg… When you walk… Or climb stairs… You think it’s just age… Stiffness…   Maybe a touch of arthritis…  OR it could be a type of serious cardiovascular disease called Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD).

PAD is caused by a buildup of plaque (plak) in arteries that carry blood to your limbs.  As the plaque builds up, arteries become clogged, limiting the flow of oxygen-carrying blood to your legs.  The danger of gangrene and amputation exists if PAD is left untreated

“People with high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, or a family history of any of these health issues are at risk,” says McLeod Vascular Surgeon Dr. Gabor Winkler. “However, the greatest risk factor is smoking. It increases your risk of PAD four times.  Certain ethnic categories – African-American, Hispanic and Asian – have a higher risk of experiencing PAD.”

Symptoms. In addition to leg pain or the feeling of “heavy legs”, patients with PAD may experience pain or cramping in the calf, thigh or hip due to lack of blood flowing to these muscles.  This pain is called “claudication” and may go away once you stop walking. Other symptoms include hair loss on the legs, smooth shiny skin or skin that’s cool to the touch.

Prevention.  Not smoking is the best way to avoid PAD.  Regular exercise and proper diet will also help. Walking or treadmill exercise three times a week can reduce symptoms for some people.

If you think that you may have Peripheral Arterial Disease, the first step is to see your doctor.  Ask your doctor to check for PAD if:

  • You cannot feel pulses in your feet.
  • Age 50+ with diabetes or are a smoker.
  • Any age with diabetes.
  •  Have pain in your legs when you walk.

Treatment. Living a healthy lifestyle may help improve the symptoms and keep effects of PAD from worsening. Stop smoking. Lose weight. Eat a low-fat diet.

Your physician may prescribe medication to lower your blood pressure, reduce your cholesterol or control your diabetes.

More serious cases may require surgery.  A vascular surgeon trained in these interventional procedures can conduct an angioplasty.  A small tube is inserted to the point in the artery that is blocked. A small balloon is expanded, compressing the plaque against the artery wall. A coated tube or “stent” may be inserted at this point to prevent the plaque from rebuilding.  An artherectomy is similar to the angioplasty, but the small tube has a series of blades on the end that break up the block.

If the blockage cannot be opened, a vascular surgeon may perform a peripheral artery bypass on the site in the leg to allow the blood to flow around the blockage.

Final thought.  Don’t ignore leg pain or numbness.  See your doctor before it worsens into something that may threaten your leg.

To find a physician, click here.

Sources:  McLeod Health, National Limb Loss Information Center, American Heart Association, National Institutes of Health, Vascular Disease Foundation, Centers for Disease Prevention & Control,, Vascular Health Foundation