Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is yet another condition affecting blood vessels that carry oxygen-filled blood from the heart to the lower parts of the body. The condition is known as carotid artery disease (CAD) if it affects arteries carrying blood to the brain. We’ll save CAD for another blog post.
The main arteries in our body branch out into a network of smaller arteries to supply blood to the abdomen, organs and legs. These smaller arteries are known as peripheral arteries. When these arteries harden due to plaque and calcium accumulation, the blood flow in the affected arteries slows down or stops completely (depending on the extent of the blockage), thereby reducing the supply of oxygen to the tissues along the affected artery. This often results in pain and cramping in the legs.
Similar to other arterial diseases, PAD can be caused by smoking, diabetes, cholesterol and hypertension. These are mostly lifestyle related issues.
The symptoms of PAD are usually pain and cramping in the legs (calves, thighs or buttocks) that gets worse with walking, and subsides when rested. The worse the pain, the worse the blockage is in the arteries. In serious cases, patients may start to get cold feet, their toes turn blue and the pulse in their legs weakens. In a worst case scenario, patients seek medical help too late, by which time oxygen deprived tissues may start to die (causing gangrene) and the affected limb is required to be amputated.
Diagnosis and Treatment
If a patient is persistently getting cramps and feeling pain in their legs, a general physician can make an initial diagnosis by feeling for weak pulse in the affected limb to pinpoint the area of the blockage. Further tests include an ultrasound, and in serious cases, an angiography. The treatment for PAD also varies according to the severity of the condition. While small blockages can be managed by making lifestyle adjustments (quitting smoking, regular exercise, losing weight etc.), more severe cases may need angioplasty (inserting a stent to open up the artery) or even bypass surgery, where the surgeon sews a graft around the blockage to resume normal blood supply.
Like heart disease, PAD too can cause some serious damage if not detected and treated early. The patients should see a doctor as soon as the first symptoms of PAD start to appear.
If you should have further questions about PAD or if you have PAD-like symptoms that you’d like to get checked out, please get in touch with us today.