Do you notice discomfort or cramping in your legs, especially during physical activity? It may be an early symptom of peripheral arterial disease (PAD) if this happens often. We highly recommend consulting your doctor as soon as possible.
PAD happens when fatty plaque builds up in the arteries, limiting blood flow to the extremities, most often the legs. This condition is common in older people, affecting up to 10% of those in their 60s and 70s.
Early detection is crucial for PAD because, according to Penn State Health vascular surgeon Dr. Matthew Cindric, severe cases can lead to amputation.
But PAD is a sneaky disease. It doesn’t show any symptoms during the earliest stages. Still, the foremost and most common symptom is pain, heaviness, or cramping in one or both legs, especially when exercising or walking. These symptoms appear because muscles can’t get enough oxygen and nutrients. It can be easy to dismiss these symptoms as usual leg cramps.
As PAD further develops, the symptoms become more severe. Common symptoms include ulcers or wounds on the feet that won’t heal. There can also be continuous numbness or pain. What’s worse is that these symptoms often precede the development of gangrene.
In a news release, Dr. Cindric said: “Vascular problems tend to escalate rapidly without prompt diagnosis and intervention. The earlier you notice the signs and get evaluated, the sooner we can get you on a path toward healing.”
Treatment for PAD, especially during the early stages, includes medications, exercise, diet changes, or procedures that open blocked arteries like revascularization.
While genetics plays a role in PAD development, at least four risk factors are within the patient’s control: high blood cholesterol, high blood sugar or diabetes, high blood pressure, and smoking. Dr. Cindric singles out smoking as a significant risk factor for PAD. He said that PAD is more prevalent in smokers than in nonsmokers.
If you or anyone you know is diagnosed with PAD, Dr. Cindric advises: “Start with smoking cessation, get into a structured exercise habit, and work with your [doctor] to manage these risk factors.” If you can manage these risk factors well, you are more likely to see great long-term results, “even if you ultimately require surgical intervention.”