Your circulatory system is a transportation network, not unlike the highways that crisscross Los Angeles, the Inland Empire, and all of Southern California and beyond. Also, not unlike these same highways, your circulatory system can get very congested, a condition known as peripheral artery disease (PAD). When that happens, blood flow slows, deliveries (like oxygen to muscles) don’t get made on time, and the result can be numbness or pain in your feet and legs.
How Blood Vessels Get Congested
The most common cause of PAD is atherosclerosis, a hardening and narrowing of arteries (particularly the long ones in your leg) due to buildup of fatty plaque deposits. These act like lane closures on a highway, funneling blood flow into tighter spaces and significantly reducing the flow rate.
Lifestyle factors are often the most significant contributors to development of the disease. Smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity all significantly increase your risk, along with diseases like diabetes. Age and family history also play a role.
Symptoms and Complications of Poor Blood Flow
Because your legs possess the longest arteries in the body, and are located the farthest from your heart, PAD symptoms are most common in the legs and feet. The most common complaint is occasional muscle pain and cramping, most often in the calf (but also feet, thighs, and buttocks). This is known as intermittent claudication; it’s usually triggered by activity and improves with rest.
Because circulation is so important to the healing process, suffers of PAD may find wounds heal slowly or not at all, significantly increasing infection risk. Nerves may not also function properly, leading to numbness, tingling, or burning sensations. Other symptoms may include legs that are cool to the touch, loss of leg hair, and shiny-looking skin.
Without treatment, PAD symptoms may get progressively worse, leading to significant pain or pain that does not go away even with rest. Leg infections that don’t heal can eventually lead to amputations, while buildup of plaque in arteries greatly magnifies your risk of a stroke or heart attack.
Lifestyle Changes Are Often the Best Treatment
There are two main goals to treating PAD—first, stopping the symptoms, and second, stopping the progressive of artery damage to reduce your risk of infection, stroke, and heart attack. Since many of the fundamental causes of PAD are lifestyle-related, a change in living habits can provide substantial relief.
If you smoke, then quitting in the No. 1 thing you can do to improve your situation and reduce your long-term complication risk. Next on the list is managing your blood sugar, getting plenty of exercise, eating a healthy diet, and getting your weight under control. If you’ve been sedentary for a long time, it may be difficult to get into the habit of regular exercise, and stressful on your feet if you try to do too much at once. Start slowly, set achievable short-term goals, and slowly increase your amount of activity in order to get your body used to the change.
Other Treatment Options
Certain medicines or procedures may also be recommended in conjunction with lifestyle changes, if these are not enough on their own. We may prescribe medications to help you control your sugar, cholesterol, or blood pressure, or increase blood flow to your limbs. In extreme cases, surgical procedures may be required to open or bypass a blocked blood vessel.
Don’t Wait for Symptoms to Worsen
Don’t just pass off intermittent muscle pain as a necessary consequence of aging. Seeking treatment for PAD as soon as you notice symptoms will not only spare you from unnecessary pain, but it could even save your life. To schedule a consultation with Dr. Danciger, connect with our office online or give us a call at 760-568-0108.