Kids love it when you blow up a balloon and stretch the neck flat, letting the air escape with a noisy screech. Wind instruments work on the same principle. Blocking part of the air flow causes sound—from the blare of a trombone to the wail of an oboe. When peripheral artery disease (PAD) puts the squeeze on your blood flow, the “sound” emitted is pain signals to the brain. Don’t ignore these cries: they could put you on guard against serious health issues.
Years ago, they called it hardening of the arteries. The medical term is atherosclerosis, and it stands for the gradual buildup of plaque and debris along the walls of your blood vessels. The buildup forces the blood to funnel through smaller places, which slows it down, reducing blood supply to the cells. If cells don’t get the oxygen and nutrients they need, they send pain messages to the brain.
When this happens in your legs—at the outer reaches (periphery) of your circulatory system—it is called peripheral artery disease. The condition can be caused by many things, including high blood pressure, high levels of cholesterol in the blood, smoking, and not getting enough exercise. Having diabetes seems to make things worse: the PAD is more severe and the symptoms don’t improve as well with treatment.
Do I Have PAD?
The symptoms of this disease can vary. Depending on where the blockage is, you may feel pain in your buttocks, thighs, calves, and occasionally even your feet. This pain usually is worse while you are active, and goes away when you rest, although some people experience leg cramps during the night. At other times there may be no pain at all, because your body has grown new blood vessels to avoid the constrictions.
Even if you have no pain, you may notice other things. Sometimes there may be numbness or a burning, tingling sensation. Your legs may feel colder than your arms, the skin may be shiny, and you may notice hair loss on your legs and toes. Any wounds on your legs might also take a lot longer to heal than they did before.
Stopping PAD in Its Tracks
To promote good circulation, follow these basic guidelines:
Don’t smoke. Getting help to quit may be the best move you ever make.
Keep cholesterol under control. Exercise is the best way, but there are medications available that also help.
Watch your blood pressure. Again, exercise can lower your numbers, but medication is also available to keep it under control.
Eat right. A healthy diet helps control your cholesterol and blood sugar levels and your blood pressure elevation. Find out which foods to eat and which to avoid.
Pain from poor circulation in your legs means other areas of your body likely have circulation problems as well. PAD is a wakeup call that warns you against the possibility of a heart attack or stroke. Follow the guidelines above to take the squeeze off your blood flow and get healthy again.
If you notice any symptoms of peripheral artery disease, visit Mark Gasparini, D.P.M., for an evaluation. We have equipment right in our office that tests the circulation in your legs or feet. We share the results with a specialist in artery and vein problems and help design a treatment regimen that can put you on the path to better health. Call us in the Bethpage, NY, area at (516) 804-9038 today, or request an appointment online.
Photo Credit: Cool Design via FreeDigitalPhotos.net