You head out for a brisk walk to begin a new exercise regimen. After a few blocks, your lower legs begin to throb and ache. You slow the pace and the aching subsides. It does not go away, but you can live with it. The walk is cut short and being out of shape is blamed for the pain. You may not be out of shape. The pain may have just informed you of the presence of peripheral artery disease (PAD).
Peripheral artery disease is the result of plaque build up in the arteries of the legs.
This build up can occur in both legs, or it may only happen severely in one at the beginning. The pain that is experienced is due to a lack of blood flow to the muscles. When they are exercised as in a run, brisk walk, or climbing stairs the shortage of blood coming to the muscles makes them complain. You experience this as pain. The same is true of a heart attack. It is the lack of oxygen to a muscle that is laboring that produces pain.
Some individuals never have symptoms of this disease until it is too late.
The lack of blood flow to the lower extremities can result in gangrene. If this occurs, it can mean the loss of a toe, a foot, or a leg depending on the severity. Without oxygen, the muscles and tissues eventually die. The dead tissue has to be removed and amputation is the most likely method to do this.
Experiencing the skin on one leg or foot being significantly cooler to the touch than the other is a sign of PAD.
After pain, the coldness of the skin on one leg or foot is most likely symptom that a person might notice. You might also notice that injuries to the lower leg or foot take an extremely long time to heal compared to other parts of the body. Some people notice a lack of feeling as nerve damage occurs from the lack of blood to supply the tissue with oxygen and food.
If you experience any of these symptoms, go see a doctor to have a diagnosis made.
For people over 60 or 65 years of age, a test for PAD should be done even if no symptoms are present. Up to 20 percent of people in this age range have this disease. A doctor can perform an ankle-brachial index test to determine if you have PAD. This is basically taking your blood pressure on your lower leg near your foot. The pressure here should run about 90 percent of what it does on your arm. A reading of 50 percent is a strong indicator of PAD.
Other tests can confirm the presence of PAD and locate blockages inside the arteries of your leg.
A CT scan is one test that is often done to locate these blockages. A Doppler and ultrasound can also help with the diagnosis. Often before treatment is completed, an MRI is required to pinpoint the problem precisely. It is possible to clear the blockages and restore the blood flow. Stints are used to hold the arteries open so that they can stay blockage free for many years.