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Peripheral Artery Disease

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Learn more about peripheral artery disease and its symptoms and treatment options.

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) occurs when the arteries that lead to your legs and feet build up with plaque, causing a partial blockage of blood flow. The plaque is a result of substances in the blood like fat, cholesterol, calcium, fibrous tissue, and more. When the plaque buildup occurs, the arteries are narrowed, limiting the supply of blood to your legs. The reduced flow of blood causes:

  • Pain and numbness in the legs
  • Infection or gangrene (in serious cases)

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Symptoms

Symptoms of PAD range from mild pain or numbness to severe pain. The calf is a common place for the pain to occur, but the location of the pain can be anywhere in the leg depending on where the narrowed artery is located. Some symptoms include:

  • Leg pain when walking or climbing stairs
  • Numbness in legs
  • Muscle pain or cramping in legs during activity that disappears after a few minutes of rest
  • Change in the color of your legs
  • No pulse or weakened pulse in your legs or feet
  • Slower growth of toenails
  • Shiny skin on legs
  • Coldness in your lower leg or foot, especially compared to the opposite side
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Treatments

Reducing the effects and stopping the progress of PAD requires lifestyle changes such as:

  • Quit smoking – People who smoke are at a much higher risk of getting PAD – in fact, they have a four times greater chance.
  • Lower your blood pressure – Talk with your doctor about medication and lifestyle changes to lower your blood pressure.
  • Lower your high blood cholesterol – Plaque buildup can be delayed or reversed as your cholesterol levels are lowered.
  • Lower blood glucose levels if you have diabetes.
  • Increase physical activity – Begin an exercise program that is approved by your doctor.
  • Eat healthy – Maintain a diet that’s low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium.

In some cases, treatment of PAD requires surgery. The exact nature of the surgery will depend on the artery that is affected, but will involve a bypass that redirects your bloodstream.