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8 Signs and Symptoms of Peripheral Artery Disease

Poor circulation can both be caused by and lead to a range of problems, from Raynaud’s syndrome to obesity, but there’s another condition known as peripheral artery disease afflicting a whopping 230 million people around the world – let’s find out what it is, why it happens and how to find out if you’ve got it.

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a circulatory condition that primarily affects the arteries in the legs and, less commonly, in the arms. It occurs when there is a build-up of plaque in the arteries, leading to reduced blood flow to the extremities. The arteries play a crucial role in the circulatory system by transporting oxygen-rich blood from the heart to various parts of the body. When plaque, made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances, accumulates on the artery walls, it can restrict or block the blood flow. This process is known as atherosclerosis. In the case of PAD, atherosclerosis occurs in the peripheral arteries, leading to reduced blood flow to the limbs. The lack of adequate blood supply can result in various symptoms, such as pain, numbness, and weakness, particularly during physical activity. Risk factors for developing PAD include: 

  • Smoking: Tobacco use is a significant risk factor for PAD as it damages the arteries and contributes to plaque build-up.
  • Diabetes: Individuals with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing atherosclerosis, which can lead to PAD.
  • High Blood Pressure: Hypertension contributes to the hardening and narrowing of arteries, increasing the risk of PAD.
  • High Cholesterol: Elevated levels of cholesterol can lead to the formation of plaque in the arteries.
  • Age: PAD is more common in older adults, especially those over the age of 50.
  • Family History: A family history of vascular diseases can increase the likelihood of developing PAD.
  • Obesity: Being overweight or obese is associated with a higher risk of atherosclerosis and PAD.
  • Physical Inactivity: Lack of regular physical activity can contribute to the development of PAD.

Here are the signs and symptoms of Peripheral Artery Disease 

Hair Loss

Hair loss can be associated with the condition due to the compromised blood flow to the affected areas, leading to reduced oxygen and nutrient supply to the hair follicles. Adequate blood flow is crucial for the normal functioning and growth of hair. When blood flow is restricted, as seen in PAD, the hair follicles may receive insufficient nourishment, resulting in hair thinning and loss.

Leg Pain or Discomfort

One of the hallmark symptoms of PAD is pain, cramping, or tiredness in the legs, particularly during physical activity such as walking or climbing stairs.

The pain typically occurs in the calf muscles and is known as claudication. It often resolves with rest but returns upon resuming activity.

Numbness or Weakness

Individuals with PAD may experience numbness or weakness in the affected limbs. This can affect their ability to perform daily activities.

Changes in Skin Colour 

Reduced blood flow can lead to changes in the skin colour of the legs or feet. The skin may appear pale or bluish, especially when the legs are elevated.

Temperature Changes

The affected limb may feel cooler than the rest of the body. This is due to the decreased blood flow and can be noticeable to the touch.

Slow Healing of Wounds + Shiny Skin

Poor circulation can impair the healing process. Wounds, particularly on the feet, may take longer to heal, increasing the risk of infections. PAD can also cause shiny skin due to the reduced blood flow to the affected limbs, leading to inadequate oxygen and nutrient supply to the skin and underlying tissues. As a result, the skin may appear shiny and tight. This is often accompanied by other symptoms such as pain, cramping, and weakness in the affected limbs. The shininess of the skin is a manifestation of the compromised circulation associated with PAD. If you're experiencing symptoms suggestive of PAD, it's important to consult with a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and management. 

Poor Nail Growth 

Reduced blood flow can affect the health of nails, leading to slow or poor nail growth.

Erectile Dysfunction  

PAD can affect the blood vessels that supply the pelvic organs, leading to erectile dysfunction in men. The same systemic vascular issues that affect the arteries in the legs can also affect arteries throughout the body, including those in the pelvic region. Erectile function is highly dependent on adequate blood flow to the genital area. When arteries are narrowed or blocked due to conditions like PAD, it can impede the normal blood flow to the penis. This reduced blood flow can result in difficulties achieving or maintaining an erection.

It's important to note that some individuals with PAD may not experience noticeable symptoms, especially in the early stages. PAD is a progressive condition, and if left untreated, it can lead to severe complications, including critical limb ischemia and an increased risk of cardiovascular events.  

If you suspect you have PAD or experience any of these symptoms, it's crucial to consult with a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and management. Lifestyle changes, medications, and, in some cases, interventional procedures may be recommended to improve blood flow and manage symptoms.

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