Peripheral arterial disease, or PAD, is a health problem in which plaque—a combination of calcium, fibrous tissue, fat, and cholesterol—accumulates in the arteries that deliver blood to your head, organs, and limbs. Plaque can harden your arteries over time and decrease the diameter of your blood vessels, which reduces the amount of blood reaching certain parts of your body, including your feet. PAD is a common circulatory problem—it affects more than 8 million American adults—and may indicate more widespread plaque accumulation throughout your body’s blood vessels.
Decreased blood flow to your lower extremities can cause pain and numbness, and it can boost your likelihood of developing an infection. PAD also increases your risk for heart attack, coronary heart disease, transient ischemic attacks, stroke, and gangrene, or tissue death—a problem that can lead to amputation. Smokers and diabetics have a significantly higher risk of developing PAD than nonsmokers, as do people with hypertension (prolonged elevated blood pressure). Other relevant risk factors for this condition include obesity, advanced age, a family history of this condition, and high levels of a protein called homocysteine. PAD symptoms are often mistaken for other health problems, and this condition commonly goes undiagnosed by healthcare providers.
Causes and Symptoms
The No. 1 cause of PAD is atherosclerosis (from smoking, prolonged elevated blood sugar levels, or high blood pressure), although other problems—blood vessel inflammation, limb injury, certain anatomical abnormalities, radiation exposure—may also cause this condition.
The most significant symptom associated with PAD is intermittent claudication, which is pain, numbness, aching, or heaviness in your leg muscles caused by walking or climbing stairs. Intermittent claudication may also manifest as leg, buttock, thigh, calve, or foot cramping.
Other signs and symptoms of PAD include:
- A blue tint to your skin
- Decreased temperature in one leg compared to the other
- Diminished or absent pulses in your lower extremity
- Slow healing (or non-healing) foot and toe sores or wounds
- Decreased toenail growth and leg hair growth
- Erectile dysfunction in men
PAD is a health condition that should always be managed by a healthcare professional. Some people with this condition may require prescription medication and/or surgery (bypass grafting, angioplasty, etc.), but most people with PAD will benefit from lifestyle changes, including quitting smoking, reducing blood pressure, maintaining healthy blood sugar levels, and boosting physical activity levels.
Consuming a healthy diet is another critical part of any treatment plan that attempts to manage PAD symptoms. Increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables and minimizing or eliminating trans fat from your diet is a good place to start.
In his 18 years as a podiatrist, Dr. Ray McClanahan has learned that most foot problems can be corr...