The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a condition of the blood vessels that causes a narrowing and hardening of the arteries that provide blood to the legs and feet. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, this condition is referred to as vascular leg disease or artery leg disease. When blood flow is impaired due to obstructions caused by fatty substances and plaque buildup, it can harm nerves and other tissues. PAD is a vascular leg disease common in men over age 50. In most cases, PAD can be successfully managed with proper treatment.
The University of Maryland Medical Center says 20 to 30 million people in the U.S. are at risk for various vascular diseases, including peripheral arterial disease.
The NIH says factors that can increase the likelihood of developing PAD are diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking and a personal or family history of heart disease.
According to the Mayo Clinic, other risk factors for vascular leg disease may include obesity, high cholesterol and an overabundance of a protein component (homocysteine) that helps build and maintain tissue.
The typical symptoms of PAD are an overall discomfort in the muscles of your legs and feet including pain, burning or fatigue. In the beginning, symptoms may only occur while walking uphill or at a brisk pace. Gradually they may appear without exertion.
The NIH says there also may be numbness in your feet or legs when you are at rest and they may look pale or be cool to the touch. In cases of severe vascular leg disease there might be pain or tingling in the feet or toes.
Your doctor will look for a low or absent pulse in your legs as well as loss of hair, especially over your toes and feet. In some cases there may be painful, slow-healing ulcers on the feet or toes that are usually black in color.
Tests for PAD include comparing blood pressure readings with both the conventional arm method and on the leg with the use of an ankle/brachial index.
Your doctor may recommend performing other tests such as angiography (a test that uses an injection of a liquid dye to make the arteries clearly visible on X-rays) of the arteries of the legs.
The NIH says medications that may help manage vascular leg disease include aspirin or clopidogrel (Plavix), which stops your blood from forming clots in your arteries. In more advanced cases, cilostazol works to enlarge the artery or arteries.
If you have a blood clot blocking an artery, your doctor may inject a clot-dissolving medication (thrombolytic therapy) into your artery to break it down.
Surgery may be considered in more severe cases if PAD is hampering your ability to work or perform day-to-day functions.
People with vascular leg disease should aim for the right balance of rest and physical activity. The NIH suggests walking or taking part in another type of exercise to the point of discomfort. Allow for a period of rest before restarting the activity.
If you smoke, try to quit. Smoking constricts arteries and increases the chance that blood clots will form.
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