It’s officially PAD Awareness Month, so it’s the perfect time to teach you about identifying PAD symptoms. First, a definition: Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) is a disease. It develops when arteries in your lower legs narrow.
Because many PAD symptoms mimic those of other conditions, this disease is often hard to diagnose. About 20 million Americans have this disease. In fact, this disease affects three times the number of women as those affected by breast cancer. Even worse? Almost 500,000 people end up in the hospital because of PAD each year. (A number that rose sharply between 2011 and 2017, according to a study from Yale University. Especially for men younger men, under the age of 65.)
Unfortunately, the fallout doesn’t always end with hospitalization. Statistics reveal that the five-year mortality rate for women with PAD is about 27%. Then, if those women develop critical limb ischemia, that mortality rate increases to 60% for those female patients. On their own, these are scary statistics. But here’s a fact that should shake you up further. Up to 200,000 Americans with PAD don’t even know they have it! So, in order to prevent a missed diagnosis, we need you to know and identify PAD symptoms. If you experience any of these problems, it’s important to see your Houston vein specialist right away.
Painful Symptoms of PAD
- Pain in Your Legs After Walking or Exercise. One of the most common symptoms of PAD, this pain or cramping occurs with movement because your lower extremities don’t get enough oxygen to support the increased activity. Most often, PAD sufferers will experience this pain in their calf muscles, but it may manifest anywhere in the lower legs. Pain will typically not resolve until the PAD sufferer stops all physical activity.
- Wounds, Sores or Ulcers. This second symptom is also caused by a lack of oxygen reaching your lower limbs. When you cut yourself, and you don’t have PAD, proper circulation and blood flow will help your injury heal quickly. When you have PAD, however, even a small scrape can remain open and unhealed as the plaque in their arteries blocks blood flow to the wound. This symptom must be addressed immediately: left unchecked, a wound can lead to serious infection and even amputation.
Physical PAD Warning Signs
- Skin Changes on Your Legs. Once again, poor circulation is behind this PAD symptom. Some of the physical changes that occur with PAD include skin that appears to be shiny, loss of leg and/or toe hair, and a blue-ish tinge to your skin. Your lower legs, especially your toes, may also feel cold, even when your feet are covered and should otherwise feel toasty.
- Muscle, Not Joint, Pain. We’ve already noted that leg pain and cramps are a symptom of PAD, but it’s important to note where that pain is located. Many people think of leg pain as a normal part of aging, and it CAN be–when that pain is happening in your joints. When it’s located in your muscles, however, that is a sign that something beyond normal aches and pains is going on.
- Dead tissue. Most people will identify their PAD before reaching this point, but if you have gangrenous or dead tissue on your toes, feet or legs and you haven’t been checked for PAD, get a diagnostic vein scan ASAP.
- Changes in bowel habits. In some cases, PAD impacts the arteries that supply blood flow to the intestines, resulting in changes to your bowel movements. The need to empty your bowels could become urgent, and your stool could be bloody. Additional symptoms include severe and diffuse stomach pain, frequent vomiting, a drop in abdominal blood pressure and an elevated white blood cell count. Finally, hydrogen can start building up in your blood, a condition known as acidosis.
Emotional PAD Symptoms
- Depression. Especially for women, your depression symptoms may develop or worsen with PAD. So if you have the symptoms we described above, and depression, it’s time for a PAD check.
PAD Diagnostic Checklist for Clinicians
Even when patients come in complaining of these symptoms, some general care physicians may find it difficult to diagnose this condition. Too often, according to this review in The BMJ journal, patients with claudication are told to rest and take aspirin. (Claudication is the medical term for symptom 1 in the list above, or leg pain that manifests with movement and improves with rest.)
As such, they offered a basic guideline for clinicians to use when deciding to refer patients for PAD care. Basically, the study suggests that a PAD diagnosis should be made for patients with claudication or rest pain; who don’t have regular peripheral arterial pulses; and whose tests reveal a reduced ankle brachial pressure index (ABPI). They note that the ABPI score is one of the best PAD indicators, since patients with spinal claudication will have a normal test score, even though their other symptoms may mimic those of peripheral arterial disease.
Can You Prevent PAD Symptoms?
According to the American Heart Association, following life’s “Essential 8” rules can help prevent cardiovascular diseases, including PAD. (In 2022, this list was updated from the Simple 7, adding sleep as an essential lifestyle choice to prevent cardiovascular disease.)
What are these crucial eight steps you can take to prevent periphery arterial disease and other forms of heart disease?
- Follow a healthy diet
- Move more, every day
- Get sufficient, quality sleep each night
- Manage weight
- Control your cholesterol levels
- Watch your blood sugar levels, too
- Control your blood pressure
- Break up with tobacco
Preventing and Treating PAD in Houston, TX
We urge you to watch for PAD symptoms. But it’s also important to know your risk for this disease, since you may not develop symptoms until your disease has progressed dramatically. After all, if there’s one thing we need you to remember, it’s this: PAD is a progressive disease. If you ignore early warning signs, your symptoms of PAD will get worse. Don’t wait until you’re in pain. Call our Houston and Dallas area clinics today and schedule an immediate PAD consultation!