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Are you or anyone in your family suffering from persistent tingling, cramping or weakness in the legs? Often mistaken for sciatica or arthritis, all these are potential signs of peripheral artery disease (PAD), which if left untreated can lead to leg and foot amputation. Even a heart attack or stroke. However, the good news is that through timely diagnoses and guided therapy, PAD can be easily detected, treated, and prevented.  

In this article, we’ll help you learn more about PAD, it’s symptoms and risk factors, and steps that you can take to stay protected. 

What is a Peripheral Artery Disease?

Affecting more than 8.5 million people in the United States alone, peripheral artery disease is caused by the narrowing of blood vessels that carry blood from the heart to other parts of the body, especially to the arms, legs, kidney, and stomach. 

The most common type of PAD is lower-extremity PAD, in which there’s a significant reduction in blood flow to the legs and feet. This leads to frequent cramping, pain, aching, fatigue, or discomfort in the leg or hip muscles when you walk, climb stairs, or exercise. PAD, if left untreated, could lead to gangrene and amputation. It also puts people at higher risk for coronary artery disease, heart attack, and stroke. 

That’s why, it is extremely important to evaluate your risk for PAD and manage and control it through expert therapies and guided lifestyle practices. Regular screening through Annual Physicals can also help you stay protected!  

What Causes PAD?

The disease is mostly caused due to the excessive build-up of plaque or cholesterol in the arteries, which significantly restricts their blood carrying capacity.  

Here’s how plaque limits the blood flow to other parts of the body: 

  • Fat deposits in the arteries or blood vessels and causes their narrowing. 
  • It leads to reduced blood flow. 
  • If the plaque becomes brittle, it may rupture and lead to the formation of blood clot. 
  • The clot may further narrow down the artery or completely block it, leading to total loss of circulation of blood to the legs and feet. This may cause loss of limb. 
  • Similarly, if the blockage occurs in a carotid artery, it can lead to stroke. 

Signs & Symptoms of PAD

Painful muscles and cramping of hips, thighs and calves when walking, climbing stairs or exercising are the most common symptoms of PAD. However, they are often confused with arthritis, sciatica or stiffness from getting older.  

Other signs of PAD include: 

  • Hair loss on the legs or feet 
  • Leg weakness
  • Numbness of legs 
  • Brittle toenails 
  • Ulcers on feet or legs that take long time to heal 
  • Legs turning pale or bluish 
  • Difficulty in finding a pulse in the leg or foot
  • Erectile dysfunction 

What Puts You at Risk?

While increasing age and family history of PAD can put you at greater risk for the disease, there are many other things that increase your risk (but can be managed or controlled). These include: 

  • Diabetes: Type 2 diabetes increases your risk of PAD and other cardiovascular diseases. Follow our tips or get in touch with our ADA certified providers to effectively control and manage your diabetes. 
  • Smoking: Smoking increases your risk of PAD by up to three times. Use our guide to enjoy the ultimate health benefits of smoking cessation.
  • Obesity: Physical inactivity and increased body weight increase your risk for PAD. Guided nutrition and medically supervised exercise programs can help! 
  • High blood pressure: The “Silent Killer” high blood pressure not only leads to PAD, it increases your risk for heart diseases too. Annual physicals, healthy eating, regular exercise, and medicinal therapies can help you to keep your blood pressure under tab. 
  • High cholesterol: High cholesterol leads to the accumulation of plaque in the arteries. That’s why, it is important to manage your cholesterol levels through proper diet and regular exercise. 

If you fall in the high-risk category, it’s time to take control of your health. Timely detection and treatment of peripheral artery disease is the only way to improve your quality of life, save your limbs, and reduce the risk for cardiovascular events. So act fast! Talk to your EPIC Health provider today. 

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