Poor circulation can cause a wide range of complications for our patients. Not only are the feet at risk of wounds and infections, the tissue and muscles throughout the body may be starved of oxygen, causing tissue death (gangrene) that ultimately results in the amputation of a limb. One of the most common circulation problems is peripheral artery disease (PAD), a condition that starts slowly but spirals into a life-threatening condition.
What Is Peripheral Artery Disease?
Peripheral artery disease (PAD), sometimes called peripheral vascular disease (PVD), is a circulatory system disorder that causes the blood vessels to narrow. It usually presents symptoms in a person’s legs and feet, as these blood vessels are furthest from the heart. Constricted blood vessels are more likely to become clogged, further restricting the blood flow to the limbs.
Common symptoms of PAD include:
- Muscle pain or cramps in the calves and thighs that worsens with walking or activity
- Legs that feel numb, cold, or tingly
- Discolored or shiny skin on the legs and feet
- Slowed growth of leg hair and toenails
- Weak pulse or muscle weakness in the legs and feet
- Wounds or sores on the feet that refuse to heal
How Is Peripheral Artery Disease Treated?
If you have PAD, it’s likely to affect all of the blood vessels in your body—including those surrounding the heart, lungs, and other vital organs. A clogged artery can result in a heart attack, while a blood clot could break apart and travel to the brain and cause a stroke. By taking action at the first sign of symptoms, you have a chance to restore the circulation in your feet and stop the condition from progressing into a serious health threat.
Common treatments for PAD include:
- Regular exercise. High blood pressure and obesity are key risk factors for PAD, so a regular exercise routine can go a long way toward increasing sensation and blood flow. People who exercise 3 or 4 times per week for at least 30 minutes at a time are often able to manage their symptoms more effectively. However, you should always consult your doctor before starting a new exercise plan.
- Eating healthy. One of the most common underlying causes of PAD is atherosclerosis, or the buildup of fatty plaque on artery walls. Adopting a healthy diet that is low in saturated fats and high in leafy vegetables can prevent more plaque formation. It can also help control your blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
- Quitting smoking. Tobacco use constricts the blood vessels, limiting the body’s ability to absorb and circulate oxygen.
- Proactive foot care. Poor circulation impairs the body’s ability to heal open wounds, increasing the risk of infection. Since it can also cause numbness in the feet, patients may not notice a severe infection until it becomes life-threatening. We can show you how to perform daily foot inspections and schedule regular visits to trim toenails, treat wounds, and help avoid PAD complications.
- Medications. Prescription medicines are not meant to be used as an alternative to healthy living, but they can help increase circulation when combined with changing habits. Depending on the underlying cause of PAD, you may be prescribed medications to lower cholesterol, reduce blood sugar, or control blood pressure. Some patients may also benefit from anticoagulants to help prevent blood clots from forming.
- Surgery. If lifestyle changes are not enough, surgery may be necessary to relieve PAD symptoms and prevent complications. Typical procedures include angioplasty (which uses a balloon to clear blockages in the artery) or bypass surgery (transplanting new vessels to reroute blood past a blockage).
If you are suffering pain below the knee, the foot and ankle specialists at Greater Washington Advanced Podiatry are here to help. Our podiatry office offers free initial consultations to determine the root cause of the problem, and we create a customized treatment plan to get you back on your feet as soon as possible. Simply fill out our online contact form or call us at (301) 515-FEET to set up your first visit.