Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is a common circulatory problem inwhich the arteries supplying blood to your limbs become clogged or partially blocked. When this happens, your extremities are left with less blood than they need to keep up with demand.
Strictly speaking, PAD refers to a problem with any of the arteries outside your heart, but the term is commonly used to describe problems in your limbs, usually your legs. However, circulatory problems in your legs can also be a clue to the presence of arterial disease to your heart, brain and elsewhere.
If diagnosed early, PAD can often be treated with exercise, diet and techniques to reduce cholesterol. When started early, treatment can stop progression of the disease and reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Signs and symptoms
About half the people with PAD experience no symptoms. About one-third to one-half the people with PAD develop intermittent claudication. This condition is characterized by muscle pain or cramping in your legs or arms that is triggered by exercise, such as walking, but disappears after a few minutes of rest. The location of the pain depends on the location of the clogged or narrowed artery. Calf pain is most common.
The severity of intermittent claudication varies widely. The pain can be debilitating — seriously impacting daily functioning and limiting physical activity — or it can just be slightly bothersome. Other signs and symptoms of intermittent claudication include:
Leg numbness or weakness
Cold legs or feet
Sores on your toes, feet or legs that won't heal
A change in the color of your legs
Hair loss on your feet and legs
Changes in your nails
If you have intermittent claudication, continuing activity in spite of pain can be harmful to your muscles. On the other hand, walking and stopping for pain relief and walking again can increase the development of collateral blood vessels — new blood vessels that form a natural bypass around obstructions, allowing more blood to reach the extremities. Over time, this increases the distance you are able to walk without pain.
As PAD progresses, your arteries may become so clogged that pain may even occur when you're not exercising or when you're lying down. This is called ischemic rest pain. It may be intense enough to prevent sleep or wake you from sleep. You may be able to temporarily relieve the pain by hanging your leg over the edge of a bed or by walking around your room.
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