Most people are familiar with the dangers of blockages in blood vessels that carry blood to the heart, but did you know that plaque buildup affects more than your coronary arteries? Peripheral artery disease (PAD) occurs when plaque buildup narrows arteries that carry oxygenated, nutrient-rich blood throughout the body. Over time this reduces blood flow to the limbs.
More than 6.5 million American adults have PAD, which triples the risk of dying of a heart attack or stroke. It’s crucial to seek care from a specialist if you’ve been diagnosed with or have symptoms of PAD.
Our team of specialists at Cardiac and Vascular Interventions of NJ wants to help you keep your heart and circulatory system as healthy as possible so that you live a long life.
To familiarize you with PAD, our experts discuss some of the signs and symptoms along with the potential causes.
Peripheral artery disease overview
Your peripheral arteries carry blood away from your heart to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the tissues throughout your body. Too much cholesterol circulating in the blood can stick to your artery walls, harden, and narrow these arteries.
PAD occurs as a result of plaque accumulation. Instead of blood flowing freely through your arteries, it must squeeze through a smaller space. You may not have any symptoms at first, but over time circulation problems occur. PAD can lead to serious health complications, including:
- Heart disease
- Heart attack
Reduced blood flow to your legs and feet means that small bruises or cuts can turn into dangerous infections, raising the risk for gangrene and amputation.
Your risk of developing PAD is higher if you:
- Have high cholesterol
- Have diabetes
- Have hypertension
- Are obese (BMI over 30)
Your risk of developing PAD also increases with age and if you have a family history of the disease.
Signs and symptoms of PAD
Symptoms of PAD depend on the severity of the plaque buildup. Symptoms are usually mild in the early stages and may go unnoticed. When symptoms do strike, it’s not uncommon to mistake them for another health issue or brush them off as a sign of stress or overexertion.
People with PAD may experience:
- Leg pain while walking or exercising
- Weakness or numbness in your legs or feet
- Coldness in one leg
- Changes in skin color of the legs
- Less hair on your legs
- Toenails that are discolored or slow-growing
- Weak pulse in your legs
- Slow-healing wounds on your legs or feet
PAD typically affects the circulation in your lower body, so you might notice changes in the appearance or feel of your legs and feet. Furthermore, men with PAD may experience erectile dysfunction.
Screening for PAD
Schedule a visit with a cardiovascular specialist for a screening if you notice symptoms of PAD. If your legs constantly cramp or feel heavy in the evenings, this may be a sign of circulation problems. Slow-healing wounds on your legs or feet are another warning sign that warrants investigation.
Even if you’re symptom-free, it’s recommended that you screen for PAD starting at age 70.
You should screen sooner (age 50 and over) if you have risk factors like diabetes, a family history of heart disease, or tobacco use.
Screenings are simple, noninvasive, painless, and, most importantly, can save your life. Wel performs a thorough physical examination and look for changes in your skin and other signs of PAD.
We also compare the blood pressure in your legs and feet with the readings from your arm. If they’re the same, it’s unlikely you have PAD. However, if your blood pressure is lower in your legs, this is an indication you may have PAD.
If you have signs of PAD, we perform other tests, such as ultrasound, to examine the blood vessels in your legs. If we confirm that you have PAD, we recommend an individualized treatment plan to open your arteries, improve your circulation, and enhance your overall health.
For expert cardiovascular care and to schedule a PAD screening, call our New Brunswick office to schedule an appointment or book an appointment online today and make your cardiovascular health a top priority.