Peripheral artery disease, commonly referred to as PAD, affects the circulatory system –specifically the arteries serving the arms, legs, stomach and head. It presents when plaque builds up on artery walls, causing the arteries to narrow, restricting blood flow – a condition known as atherosclerosis. As the plaque build-up continues, blood flow is restricted and causes symptoms down stream depending on the location of the blockage.
The legs are most often affected by PAD, and if left untreated, the condition can lead to leg and foot wounds that won’t heal, increasing the risk for gangrene and amputation. Patients diagnosed with PAD also have a higher risk for coronary artery disease and heart attacks.
While pain, cramping, or tiredness in the legs or hips upon exertion are classic PAD symptoms and signal that the affected area isn’t receiving enough blood, many people suffering from PAD won’t experience any symptoms, or very minor ones. However, common symptoms associated with PAD include:
- Numbness or tingling in the extremity
- Shiny skin or a change in skin color to blue or other discoloration
- Lack of hair on extremities, or hair or nails that are very slow growing
- A weak pulse in the extremity
- Extremities that are frequently cold
- Wounds that won’t heal, or take a long time to heal
- Erectile dysfunction
There are numerous factors that increase an individual’s risk of developing peripheral artery disease. Some of these risks can be minimized through lifestyle choices, while others cannot because they’re inherited. They include:
- Family history of the disease
- Certain medical conditions, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol
- Over age 65
- Ethnicity – African Americans are afflicted with PAD at a higher rate than other populations