Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) Symptoms, Signs & Diagnosis
The symptoms of Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) are more easily recognizable by the general population, and for good reason: CAD — caused by untreated atherosclerosis — is the primary contributor in all heart attacks. Many individuals with CAD may not recognize the symptoms before it’s too late; fortunately, there is another marker for untreated atherosclerosis with symptoms that present far earlier: Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD).
By identifying atherosclerosis when it manifests as PAD, individuals may give themselves additional time to treat the underlying condition, thereby decreasing their risk for heart attack and stroke. To do so, however, it is crucial that individuals recognize the symptoms of PAD.
PAD most commonly occurs in individuals over the age of 70; however, smokers or individuals with a history of diabetes can be at risk as early as age 50. The primary symptom of PAD is claudication, or leg pain when walking. The severity of claudication can vary depending on the individual.
Some PAD sufferers experience only mild pain or no pain at all, making a proper diagnosis of PAD much more difficult. However, some PAD sufferers experience severe to debilitating claudication when walking. If the disease is not properly treated, this pain may progress beyond claudication to ischemic rest pain; that is, pain that occurs even when the individual is not engaging in any physical activity.
Individuals afflicted with PAD may experience some or all of the following symptoms:
- Claudication in hip, thigh or calf muscles, particularly after walking or climbing stairs
- Numbness or weakness in the lower extremities
- Coldness in the leg or foot, typically isolated to one side
- Sores on legs, feet or toes that will not heal
- Change in leg color or shiny skin on legs
- Loss or reduced growth in hair on legs and toenails
- Weak or no pulse in legs or feet
Some of these symptoms are often mistaken for simple signs of aging, particularly the two most common symptoms of PAD (claudication and hair loss). Therefore, a preventative approach — rather than a curative approach — is preferable.
It is recommended that individuals schedule a screening for PAD if they are over the age of 70; over the age of 50 and have a medical history of diabetes or smoking; are under the age of 50 with a medical history of diabetes, obesity, and/or high blood pressure; or produce high levels of homocysteine.
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