A Primer on Peripheral Artery Disease
Peripheral artery disease affects the blood flow to various limbs and extremities throughout the body. It is the result of blood vessels that are too narrow to allow the blood to flow properly. Peripheral artery disease, sometimes referred to as PAD, most commonly causes issues within the blood vessels of the legs. These are furthest from where blood is pumped through the body and can be harder to reach, especially if there are more narrow blood vessels for the blood to course through. PAD can lead to decreased feeling in the extremities and result in a higher risk for infection. It can also lead to heart disease.
What causes PAD?
Peripheral artery disease is caused by the narrowing of blood vessels to different parts of the body. These narrow blood vessels could be the result of genetics and natural causes, but most commonly they are the result of a buildup of plaque – a substance that is made up primarily of fat and cholesterol. Individuals that have a diet high in fat are at a higher risk for the disease, along with individuals that are obese or have a history of smoking.
What are the symptoms?
One of the first signs that you may be experiencing peripheral artery disease is numbness or tingling in the legs, arms, feet or hands. This tingling is different than nerve pain and is often described as feeling like the limb doesn’t exist at all. The decreased blood flow to the limb is the reason behind these feelings. Patients that are experiencing can also experience painful cramping in the legs, leg weakness, change of color in the affected limb, coldness in the limb, shiny skin, and a weak pulse in the legs. It’s not uncommon for patients to not realize that the symptoms are a result of a disease, instead attributing them to increased activity or aging.
How is it treated?
The treatment of peripheral artery disease focuses first on getting rid of the pain that is felt in the limbs and second on treating the cause of the pain. Anti-inflammatory medications, along with pain medication, can help stop the pain and symptoms that the patient is experiencing. Medications such as cholesterol medicine, high blood pressure medicine, and anti-coagulation medications can help reduce the amount of plaque that is in the blood vessels and arteries while preventing it from becoming thicker and taking up more space in the vessels. In extreme and advanced cases, surgery may be necessary to reopen the arteries and allow the blood to begin flowing throughout the body normally.