By: David Bigatel, MD
It’s easy to dismiss leg pain as aches and pains, but if you’re experiencing recurring pain, cramping, or tiredness in your legs, it could be a sign of something more. Peripheral artery disease (PAD), which is the result of blocked arteries that reduce or restrict blood flow, can be the cause of this pain and potentially lead to other health issues if it isn’t addressed and treated.
Symptoms of PAD
The most common symptoms of PAD are pain, cramping, and numbness in the legs or feet, particularly when you are exercising or walking. This pain is your body’s way of communicating that it is not receiving enough blood to meet the increased demand it requires when your legs are in motion. Less common but still valid symptoms include foot or toe wounds that heal slowly, gangrene, and a decrease in the temperature of your affected foot or leg.
Although there are symptoms for PAD, they are often not recognizable and, in some instances, are not always apparent. Those who smoke or have high blood pressure, cholesterol, or diabetes are all at an increased risk for PAD, and should pay especially close attention to any instances of pain, numbness or cramping.
Health Risks of PAD
When arteries are blocked or narrowed by fatty deposits, key organs are put at risk, including the heart and brain. Untreated PAD can cause an individual four to five times more risk for heart attack and stroke and, in very serious cases, the disease can also lead to gangrene and even amputation of the affected leg.
Fortunately, PAD is easily diagnosed and can be managed with simple lifestyle changes. The single most important risk factor for PAD is tobacco use, so if you’re a regular or recreational tobacco user, quit. In addition, maintaining a healthy diet and controlling your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and diabetes can all reduce your risk for PAD or for relieving its symptoms once you have been diagnosed. Exercising regularly is also beneficial.
If you think you might be experiencing PAD, make an appointment to discuss your diagnosis and treatment options.
Dr. Bigatel is board-certified in vascular surgery and currently practices at Riddle Hospital. He attended medical school at Jefferson Medical College and completed his residency at Geisinger Medical Center.