Recognizing the Signs of Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD)

Over eight million Americans over the age of 40 have peripheral arterial disease (PAD), but only one in four recognize the symptoms. 

In La Mesa, California, the expert physicians at Vascular Associates of San Diego offer non-surgical, minimally invasive approaches to the treatment of vascular disease like PAD. Our specialized techniques have evolved to allow patients to undergo therapy with less discomfort and minimal impact on daily activities.

Early detection of PAD is vital, so here’s what you need to know.

What is PAD?

PAD is a circulatory disorder in the legs caused by the hardening of the arteries (arteriosclerosis) in your blood vessels. When walking, the lack of oxygen in the arteries triggers pain, which disappears again when standing still. If the blood supply is critically reduced, you may have pain while resting or wounds that don’t heal. 

PAD is a circulatory disease of the legs, but it’s also an important sign that the blood vessels in your whole body can be arteriosclerotic. Anyone suffering from PAD is at risk of suffering a  heart attack or stroke. Many PAD patients have heart problems or have already had a stroke, while others are at high risk of developing such problems in the first place.

If you have PAD, one or more arteries that carry blood to your limbs become narrowed and blocked. This disrupts normal blood circulation and oxygen supply to the limbs. Usually, the pelvic or leg arteries are affected by these circulatory disorders. Arteries in the arms are rarely affected.

PAD causes

The leading causes of arteriosclerosis and thus of PAD are:

PAD develops when fatty deposits (plaques) form in the walls of your arteries and vessels that carry blood from the heart to the legs (and, less often, arms). Tissues such as skin, muscles, and bones are no longer adequately supplied with oxygen, and their function is restricted.

Stages of PAD

PAD occurs in stages. The tricky thing about this disease is that it doesn’t cause symptoms for a long time. By the time the symptoms are noticeable, your leg vessels (and often other vessels in the body) have already changed significantly pathologically. There are four stages of PAD.

Stage one

There are already changes in the vessels in the first stage of PAD, but symptoms aren’t yet noticeable.

Stage two

Stage two is typically when walking pain begins. Depending on which vessels are affected, pain can occur in the calf, the back of the thigh, or the buttocks. The most common is the pain in the calf. The cramp-like pain occurs when the walking pace is accelerated, when walking uphill, climbing stairs, or even when carrying heavy loads. Affected people sometimes also report weakness or a feeling of heaviness.

Stage three

In the third stage, your blood circulation is no longer sufficient even at rest, which means you experience pain even at rest. The pain can become severe.

Stage four

Stage four is critical. During this stage, the tissue dies. Blood flow is reduced critically, causing ulcers and gangrene. 

Symptoms of PAD

When symptoms begin appearing, you may notice the following: 

Unless countermeasures are taken, the arteries become increasingly narrow, and blood flow continues to deteriorate. The typical walking pains appear after shorter and shorter walking distances or other low loads. Skin changes and non-healing wounds can occur. Tissue can sag, and even amputations may be necessary.

How to avoid PAD

As with most diseases, a healthy lifestyle can go a long way. These include, for example, switching to a low-fat and low-sugar diet, taking regular medication, giving up cigarettes, checking blood pressure, and regular check-ups.

Call Vascular Associates of San Diego or book an appointment online to discuss ways to avoid PAD and the treatment options available.

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