Ever found yourself in a 1-lane squeeze on a city highway, right during rush hour? Hopefully you didn’t have any critical appointments to make!
Your circulatory system acts as a sort of highway for your body, with your blood shipping vital nutrients and oxygen to cells that need it. Like a real highway, blood vessels can get clogged and constricted, meaning lowered blood flow (especially to your limbs) that can’t keep up with your body’s demands. This condition is known as peripheral artery disease, or PAD.
Symptoms and Complications of Constricted Arteries
The most frequent and noticeable symptom of PAD is intermittent claudication, felt as muscle pain and cramping, usually triggered by walking or activity. It’s most often felt in the calf, thighs, and hips, and while some cases may be relatively mild, more serious event could cause debilitating pain.
Other symptoms include numbness and tingling; skin that feels cold, looks shiny, or changes color; weakened pulse; hair loss on legs; and muscle weakness.
Why Blood Vessels Get Clogged (and Why Leg Pain Might Only Be the Beginning)
By far, the most common underlying cause of PAD is atherosclerosis. In this condition, deposits of fatty plaque accumulate on artery walls, narrowing the passageway for blood to get through. Risk factors that lead to the development of atherosclerosis include smoking, obesity, high blood pressure or cholesterol, diabetes, age, and family history. If you have a number of these risk factors, we strongly recommend you make an appointment for a PAD screening.
Remember that if plaque builds up in arteries in your leg, it’s probably building up elsewhere, too. Intermittent claudication or numbness in the legs may be the first sign that you’re at significantly increased risk of other forms of cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke. Taking action early may not only help you recover sensation and reduce pain in your legs, but also save your life.
Occasionally, PAD may be result from something other than atherosclerosis, such as injury, inflammatory disease, mechanical defects in your anatomy, or even radiation exposure.
Managing and Treating PAD Naturally
In most cases, the best thing you can do for your PAD is to live a better, healthier, more active life. Many people are able to stop progression of the disease and manage symptoms purely through these means, including:
Eating healthy a healthy diet high in veggies and low in saturated fats
Since poor circulation impairs natural healing ability and increases infection risk, daily foot inspections and regular, proactive foot care is strongly encouraged to avoid complications. This goes double for those who also suffer from diabetes.
Medical Treatment Options
A number of medications and other professional treatment options exist to help those for whom lifestyle changes alone prove insufficient. They are not an alternative to healthy living, but can be very effective when used in combination with improved lifestyle habits.
The right medication for you will depend on the underlying cause of your PAD. They may include medications to control cholesterol, blood pressure, or blood sugar, depending on what you struggle with and where you need the most help.
We may recommend a medication to help prevent blood clots, since narrow arteries are more likely to become totally clogged (and that can mean tissue death, a stroke, or a heart attack). There are also medications that can widen blood vessels to improve blood flow and relieve intermittent claudication pain; there tends to be trade-off here, as more effective artery-widening drugs also tend to come with more side effects.
Finally, in some cases surgery is necessary to relieve PAD symptoms and minimize complication risks. Procedures may include angioplasty (which uses a balloon to flatten blockages and expand the artery) or bypass surgery (using a transplanted or synthetic vessel to shuttle blood around a blockage).
Please, do not ignore the symptoms of PAD, and see us for a screening if you notice symptoms, you have a number of known PAD risk factors, or are over age 50. It’s not just about relieving your leg pain, it could save your life.