PAD most commonly causes blood clots, swelling or narrowing and blockage of the blood vessels.
The most common symptom is painful muscle cramping in the hips, thighs or calves when walking, climbing the stairs or exercising. Other warning signs include tingling or a dull ache in the legs. Typically, the pain goes away with rest and returns when the person starts walking again. This makes sense because working muscles need more blood flow; resting muscles can get by with less. If there’s a blood flow blockage due to plaque buildup in the arteries or veins, the muscles won’t get enough blood during exercise.
The feeling of cramps or pain is the muscles’ way of warning the body that they are not getting enough blood to meet the increased need during exercise. This is called “intermittent claudication.”
Could you be at risk?
Sometimes, leg pain can be confusing. People may think it is caused from arthritis, sciatica or just “stiffness” from getting older. It’s important to remember that PAD pain occurs in the muscles, not the joints.
Other symptoms may include:
- Foot or toe wounds that won’t heal or are slow to heal,
- Coldness in the lower legs or feet
- Skin discoloration on the legs or feet, especially a pale or bluish color
The number one risk factor for PAD is smoking. Your risk for getting PVD increases four times if you smoke or have a history of smoking.
- You are also at highest risk for PAD if you are older than age 50 and have a personal or family history of vascular disease, heart attack, stroke or abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAA).
- African-Americans are more than twice as likely as Caucasians to develop PAD.
An accurate diagnosis is important, because physicians warn that PVD can potentially be life-threatening, and it’s often a sign of other potential vascular problems that could lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Anyone with leg pain symptoms, or leg pain after a brief walk, is encouraged to call for a free PAD screening at the Mat Gaberty Heart Center. The screening takes just a few minutes. It’s painless, simple and non-invasive.
During the test, a cardiac professional measures blood pressure in the arms and compares that to the blood pressure taken at the ankle. The difference between them is calculated and used to determine if there is a reason to suspect a blockage in the peripheral arteries leading to the legs. This is called an ankle-brachial index (ABI). Test results will be sent to your primary care physician.
Depending on the results, more extensive vascular testing may be recommended. Vascular specialists at the Mat Gaberty Heart Center now have minimally invasive procedures available to treat PVD with lower risks and a faster recovery time.
The Center also offers a supervised exercise program designed for people with Peripheral Artery Disease. The specialized program helps patients with PAD get on the right course toward treating and controlling symptoms, while lowering the risk for future complications.
To schedule an appointment for a free PAD test, or for more information about the PAD Cardiac Rehabilitation program, please call the Mat Gaberty Heart Center’s Cardiac Rehabilitation team at (586) 493-3354.