If you’ve ever been stuck behind a train, caught in a traffic jam, or slowed down by whiteout conditions or inclement weather, you know how frustrating it can be—especially when you need to get somewhere in a hurry.
Your circulatory system is, in many ways, like an interior roadway. The blood vessel “cars” carry passengers or cargo (blood and nutrients to hungry cells, waste products to be filtered) to their destinations. And just like your morning commute, these roadways can get congested. There’s a name for this traffic jam—peripheral arterial disease, or PAD—and it can significantly reduce the amount of blood flow received by your feet and extremities.
Your Shipment Has Been Delayed—Symptoms of PAD
Low blood flow can cause myriad problems, and different people may experience different issues. Muscle cramps and foot pain are common, especially during exercise. You may feel strange sensations, including burning or numbness and shiny skin in your legs and feet. You may notice that your legs feel much cooler than your arms. As the arteries narrow, pain may become more intense and occur even when at rest. Lack of blood flow also reduces your body’s natural ability to fight off infection and repair wounds. People with peripheral arterial disease often report that cuts or sores on their feet just won’t heal.
In the worst case scenario, a narrowed artery may become too small to accommodate a blood clot and become completely blocked, potentially leading to tissue death, heart attack, or stroke.
Artery Lane Closures—Causes of PAD
Here’s where the analogy breaks down. While real traffic jams can be relieved in a relatively short time, as accidents are cleared up and lanes are reopened, it’s not so easy with peripheral arterial disease. The condition is usually caused by hardened, narrowed arteries (atherosclerosis) that have been clogged by cholesterol and fat and restrict blood flow. Obesity, years of smoking, unmanaged high blood pressure or cholesterol, alcohol abuse, and diabetes are the major risk factors here.
These blockages are unfortunately more or less permanent, even after making healthy lifestyle improvements. Conservative treatments are generally designed to halt progression, rather than reverse it.
Keeping the Traffic Flowing—Prevention and Treatment
That said, don’t be discouraged! There’s still a lot you can do to limit the damage, relieve symptoms, and improve your everyday quality of life.
The best and most permanent solution is a commitment to making healthy choices. Watch what you eat. Get regular exercise. Control high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar with a combination of better lifestyle habits and, if necessary, medication. If you smoke, quit. Also, be sure to treat your feet well—keep them clean and dry, and check your feet daily for any problems—since PAD greatly increases the chances that even minor nicks will become infected.
Okay, for many that does sound like a big ordeal, but you can do it! It helps to find somebody—a spouse, friend, or family member—who is willing to make the journey with you and hold you accountable.
Still, we recognize that you may need a little more assistance, especially when you’re first adjusting to new, healthy habits. In addition to treating the causes (e.g., blood pressure or cholesterol drugs), a number of medications can help you manage painful symptoms related to PAD. These may help temporarily widen arteries or improve blood flow and prevent blood clotting,
For substantial blockages, a surgical procedure may be necessary to reopen a passage (angioplasty) or to bypass it using a grafted or synthetic artery.
Call the Rescue Team
Although the wide variety of possible symptoms sometimes make it difficult to interpret the warning signs, peripheral arterial disease is relatively easy (and painless) to diagnose and important to treat. If you notice muscle pain, numbness, or tingling in your feet, calves, or legs, call Family Foot and Ankle Center at (513) 728-4800 or (859) 282-1572. This is especially important if you have a family history of heart disease or struggle with weight, diabetes, smoking, or other related risk factors. Numbness, cramping, and pain are not normal—let our experts in the Cincinnati, OH, area help you get back to full health.