Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is narrowing or blockage of the arteries leading to decreased blood flow to your legs or feet. When a person develops peripheral arterial disease, their limbs do not receive enough blood flow to keep up with demand. PAD usually occurs in the legs, and it can cause symptoms such as leg pain when walking.
People who develop PAD commonly suffer from atherosclerosis, also known as “hardening of the arteries.” This occurs when plaque (fatty material) builds up on the inner walls of the arteries. This narrows and clogs the arteries and decreases blood flow. In the legs, this can lead to pain and cramping when walking, and later can result in pain in the toes and feet when a person is resting. This is because the arteries are now unable to deliver enough blood to the feet. In its most advanced stage, this can lead into tissue necrosis, even possible amputation.
When a person develops peripheral arterial disease, they may not have any symptoms, or have mild symptoms such as leg pain when walking, what is known as claudication.
Claudication symptoms include muscle pain or cramping in the legs that is triggered by use of the limb, such as walking. The symptoms usually disappear after a few minutes of rest. The location of the pain depends on the location of the clogged or narrowed artery. Pain is most common in the calves.
The severity of the claudication can vary from mild discomfort to debilitating pain that keeps the person from doing things such as walking the dog.
Some symptoms associated with peripheral arterial disease include:
Some of these symptoms may indicate the patient is in danger of losing possible toes or even a foot. The blockage needs may need to be addressed.
PAD diagnosis begins with a medical history and physical examination. Your health care provider will also ask about symptoms and check the arterial pulse in your legs.
Your physical exam may include:
If your ABI is normal, but you have certain medical conditions like diabetes or kidney disease, you may still need additional testing. If your ABI is abnormal, your doctor may recommend one of these additional tests:
Once your arteries have narrowed due to atherosclerosis, there is the risk of developing more serious conditions like: