Peripheral artery disease, or PAD, is a disease of the peripheral arteries, most commonly in the pelvis and legs, in which plaque builds up in the arteries that carry blood to your head, organs and limbs. Over time, plaque can harden and narrow the arteries, thus limiting the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your organs and other parts of your body.
The more you understand about the condition and symptoms, the more you’ll be able to protect your health. For example, diabetes often goes hand in hand with PAD, which results in a decrease of blood flow to the legs and feet. This can result in inadequate blood flow to heal a foot sore or wound.
Patients with diabetes and PAD are more likely to have healing complications, infection and, in the most extreme cases, amputation. Although having diabetes puts you at a greater risk of developing PAD, anyone can be diagnosed with the disease. According to the American Heart Association, those who smoke, have high blood pressure or high cholesterol are also at risk for PAD.
Know the symptoms
Paying attention to your legs and feet is a key factor in the line of defense against PAD. Know the symptoms of peripheral arterial disease:
- A change in the skin color of your legs and feet; from a healthy pink to red or blue
- A non-healing wound on the foot
- Swelling in the legs or feet
- Foot or leg sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures
- Tightening of the skin on the legs or feet, resulting in a shiny appearance
- Loss of hair on feet or legs
- Cramping in leg or calf muscles while walking
- Pain when feet are elevated and at night
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, see your healthcare provider. Many of the symptoms could be a sign of something other than PAD, but it is important to get an accurate diagnosis. Early diagnosis and treatment of PAD can help protect you from future complications.
A PAD diagnosis
If you are diagnosed with PAD, do your part to ensure your health:
- Make sure you are monitored on a regular basis by a healthcare professional.
- Check with your healthcare provider regarding an exercise program. Exercise, such as walking, promotes blood circulation and overall health.
- Take your medications as prescribed.
- Monitor your legs and feet for swelling.
- Wear proper fitting shoes and never go barefoot.
Take the next step:
- Read about 87-year-old Maxine Kilkoin’s experience with PAD.
- Get the answers to frequently asked questions about PAD.
Dr. Crystal Holmes is an Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine in the Division of Metabolism, Endocrinology, and Diabetes (MEND) at the University of Michigan Medical School and a podiatrist with the U-M Frankel Cardiovascular Center PAD team. She has experience with all aspects of podiatric medicine with special interest in the management of diabetic foot and wound care. View Dr. Holmes’ physician profile on UofMHealth.org.
The University of Michigan Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center is a top ranked heart and heart surgery program among Michigan hospitals. To learn more, visit our website at umcvc.org.