Peripheral Arterial Disease: Signs & Symptoms

Arteries near your heart aren’t the only ones in your body that can become clogged with plaque. Your arms and legs can also suffer from this disease, as McLeod Vascular Surgeon Carmen Piccolo, DO, explains.

Here’s a summary of Dr. Piccolo’s comments:

Peripheral Arterial Disease or PAD, as it’s called, is a widespread circulatory problem that is very common in the United States, as well as other developed countries. PAD involves narrowing of the arteries or blockage of the arteries that go to the extremities.

The warning signs and symptoms of PAD can be quite variable. Many patients with PAD actually have no symptoms, also called asymptomatic. Understanding the risk factors and which patients are likely to develop PAD is very important. In addition, some patients can have mild pain in their legs and their buttocks when they’re walking — to severe disabling pain that does not allow them to do their activities, daily living or work — to constant pain in the feet.

In the most severe form of PAD, “critical limb ischemia,” patients develop tissue loss and ulceration or wounds on their feet.

Patients with diabetes have an especially higher risk of developing peripheral arterial disease, even at a younger age than people who do not have diabetes. Patients with diabetes should be seeing their podiatrist for good foot care during the year, as well as scheduling an annual screening for peripheral arterial disease, especially if they smoke.

The screening for peripheral arterial disease is really quite simple and painless. Mostly, it involves a non-invasive blood pressure cuff test on the legs and the arms to assess blood flow to the extremities. Other tests for peripheral arterial disease include ultrasounds and CT scans. But the mainstay for initial diagnosis of peripheral arterial disease is something called ankle-brachial index where the cuffs are placed on the arms and legs.

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