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8 Warning Signs of PAD You Shouldn't Ignore

Jun 04, 2024
Man in red shirt sits on the floor rubbing his lower leg

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a common yet often underdiagnosed circulatory condition in which narrowed arteries caused by plaque buildup reduce blood flow to the limbs. Early symptoms of PAD can be easy to dismiss, but there are several warning signs of PAD that you should never ignore, including:

  • pain in your legs when walking
  • sores or wounds on your legs and feet that don’t heal
  • a weak pulse in your legs or feet
  • pain or numbness even when resting
  • changes in leg color
  • leg pain and cramping
  • shiny skin on the legs
  • hair growth on the legs that slows or stops

PAD typically affects the legs, leading to symptoms such as pain and fatigue that can mistakenly be attributed to aging or lack of fitness, but symptoms can also extend beyond pain and discomfort and indicate more severe health issues, including an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Early detection and treatment are critical in managing PAD and improving your overall cardiovascular health.

CardioVascular Health Clinic leads the country in revolutionary new treatments for cardiovascular diseases and conditions like PAD. Our multidisciplinary team of national-caliber physicians, interventional radiologists, and cardiovascular specialists strives to offer the most advanced modalities available for minimizing symptoms and improving quality of life, with techniques, technology, and procedures that reduce recovery time, lower the risk of complications, and produce superior outcomes in patient care. By combining our years of experience with a comprehensive, whole-person approach to treatment, we are setting new standards in PAD management throughout Oklahoma and the US.

Recognizing Urgent PAD Symptoms

More than 8 million people have PAD, but for many, they experience few or no symptoms of the condition, especially early on, since peripheral artery disease may begin gradually with signs that are easy to dismiss. 

However, recognizing these early symptoms is necessary for prompt diagnosis and treatment. Symptoms can range from physical changes in your legs to feelings of discomfort that might seem minor until they persist or worsen. 

Here are 8 symptoms of PAD you should never ignore.

  1. Leg Pain and Cramping 

Claudication—pain and cramping in the legs during physical activity—is one of the major symptoms of PAD. This pain is felt in the calves, thighs, hips, or buttocks during activities like walking or standing and goes away with rest. It is often described as aching or burning and can severely limit mobility.

  1. Numbness or Weakness in Legs

Reduced blood flow through the arteries in your legs can lead to feelings of numbness or a general weakness. This might make everyday activities, such as walking or climbing stairs, more difficult than usual. As the disease progresses, the numbness or pain will persist, even when resting. 

  1. Coldness in the Lower Leg or Foot 

If one leg or foot often feels colder than the other, especially compared to other parts of the body, it could be a sign of the reduced blood flow characteristic of PAD.

  1. Changes in Leg Color 

A noticeable change in the color of the legs—with the skin turning pale or bluish—is a significant warning sign. This discoloration is because of a decreased blood supply to the legs.

  1. Sores or Wounds That Heal Slowly 

Poor circulation can prevent sores or wounds on the legs, feet, or toes from healing as they normally would. If you notice that minor cuts or injuries take a long time to heal, it might indicate PAD. Seek treatment from your healthcare provider because these sores are a risk for infection.

  1. Hair Loss or Slower Growth 

The reduced blood flow from PAD can also cause changes in hair growth on the legs. Hair may grow slowly, be noticeably thinner, or stop growing altogether.

  1. Shiny Skin 

The skin on the legs may appear shiny or tight, reflecting changes in skin health due to decreased blood flow.

  1. Weak or No Pulse in the Legs or Feet 

A standard method of checking for PAD is to measure the pulse in your legs. A strong pulse means that your blood is flowing well; a weak pulse signals that your arteries may be blocked. Your doctor may also do an ankle-brachial index test, which compares the blood pressure in your arms and ankles.

Why These Symptoms of PAD are Important

The symptoms of peripheral artery disease can significantly affect daily living and overall health. Leg pain and cramping can make simple activities like walking or climbing stairs difficult, leading to a more sedentary lifestyle that only worsens other health conditions such as obesity and heart disease. Numbness and weakness in the legs can reduce mobility and increase the risk of falls, especially among older adults.

Furthermore, the slow healing of wounds or sores due to PAD can lead to serious infections. The most severe cases may require drastic interventions like amputation of toes, feet, or legs.

It’s important not to ignore the symptoms of PAD. For those experiencing leg pain or any of the other symptoms, seeking medical advice and treatment can prevent the progression of peripheral artery disease and maintain your quality of life.

When to Seek Medical Help for PAD

To effectively manage peripheral artery disease, knowing when to consult a healthcare provider is essential. Prompt evaluation is needed if you experience: 

  • Consistent leg pain while walking or resting
  • Sores or wounds on your legs or feet that do not heal
  • Skin discoloration on your leg or if it feels unusually cold to the touch

These are critical signs which need professional evaluation and may suggest more advanced PAD.

Risk Factors for PAD

Certain factors can put you at a higher risk of developing PAD. If you have one or more of the following risk factors, it’s especially important to be on the lookout for the PAD warning signs:

  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • A family history of vascular disease

Regular screenings for PAD can be life-saving—even before symptoms appear. Individuals over the age of 70 or those over 50 with a history of smoking or diabetes should discuss PAD screening as part of their routine checkups.

If PAD is suspected, a healthcare provider can perform simple, non-invasive tests, such as the ankle-brachial index. Early detection through such screenings can help with more effective management through lifestyle changes, medication, or, in some cases, surgical interventions to restore proper blood flow.

What to Expect During an Evaluation for PAD

When peripheral artery disease is suspected, your healthcare provider may perform specific diagnostic tests to confirm a PAD diagnosis. Understanding what to expect during a medical evaluation for PAD can help prepare individuals for an effective visit.

Diagnostic Tests for PAD

During your evaluation, your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical and family health history. They may perform one or more tests to diagnose PAD and assess its severity, such as:

  • Ankle-Brachial Index (ABI): This is the most common test for PAD. It involves using blood pressure cuffs on your ankles and arms to measure blood pressure and determine how well blood is flowing. You may be asked to walk on a treadmill to assess blood pressure readings before and after exercise.
  • Ultrasound: Often performed along with ABI, an ultrasound uses sound waves to identify blockages or narrowing.
  • Six-Minute Walking test: During this test, you walk in a hallway for six minutes, and the distance is measured to determine the severity of your PAD and how much it affects your walking ability in everyday life.
  • CT Angiography: This is a more detailed scan than ultrasound and provides an accurate image of the arteries, showing areas of restriction or blockages.
  • Magnetic Resonance Angiography (MRA): Similar to a CT, this test uses magnetic fields to generate detailed images of the arteries.
  • Blood tests: Your healthcare provider may order tests for blood sugar levels, high cholesterol, and high triglycerides to check for conditions related to PAD.

Questions to Ask Your Healthcare Provider

When consulting your healthcare provider about symptoms of PAD, it’s important to ask the right questions, which can improve the accuracy of your diagnosis and the effectiveness of your treatment.

  • What is the severity of my condition? PAD is generally classified into four levels of severity. Understanding which stage of PAD you are in can guide the type of treatment and help you understand potential outcomes. 
  • What treatment options are available for PAD? Depending on the severity of your PAD, there are several treatment options available. From lifestyle changes to medication or surgery, understanding the importance of treatment can help with long-term management of PAD.
  • How often should I be screened for progression? Regular monitoring can prevent more severe complications of PAD. Your healthcare provider may recommend testing yearly or more often to monitor the severity of your PAD.
  • Are there lifestyle changes I should make to help manage my PAD? Heart-healthy lifestyle changes are key components of treatment for PAD. Your healthcare provider may recommend eating a healthy diet, increasing physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, and quitting smoking.

Take Action Against PAD with CardioVascular Health Clinic

While PAD cannot be reversed, it does not have to ruin your quality of life. Early diagnosis and treatment of PAD can mean the difference between a manageable condition and chronic pain, amputation, or even death.

At CardioVascular Health Clinic, we specialize in PAD and innovative PAD treatments that focus on limb salvage and amputation prevention, including the retrograde tibio-pedal–or retro pedal–procedure. The retro pedal procedure is a revolutionary alternative to amputation that re-established blood flow and rescues the affected limb, and is highly successful for patients suffering from advanced PAD, even if they have not had success with other treatments in the past. We’re also Oklahoma’s only endovascular specialist in routinely treating the small arteries within the feet and below the knees.

Don’t wait until it’s too late to seek help for your or your loved one’s PAD symptoms. Take the first step toward better vascular health by scheduling your appointment today, and find out more about your risk and treatment options for a healthier tomorrow.

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