PAD, or Peripheral Artery Disease, is not one of the better-known diseases in the public right now: chances are, most of you will have read of it for only the first time today in this article. Given its rising prevalence and high mortality rate (verging on 50% in ten years, according to one UK study), this is surprising. In fact, most people already suffering from it will be unfamiliar with it at the time of diagnosis—if they get diagnosed at all.
I was diagnosed with PAD five years ago, and it was as much an unfamiliar ailment to me as it probably is to you now. My first thought upon diagnosis was that it was just a minor problem, which is a fairly natural reaction. How many people imagine pains in their feet to be indicative of serious, possibly life-threatening diseases, after all? I was certainly not one of them, which explains why I waited so long to even see podiatrists for help with my ailment: I had been suffering from the same leg and foot aches for years following a bout of walking, yet never thought it necessary to see a specialist for help with them before that. It took my daughter (who was tired of me limping around after her after just an hour of walking) to convince me to mention it to my physician, who referred me to a podiatrist after that.
My podiatrist ran some tests, then consulted with a vascular physician before returning with a pronouncement of PAD. The arteries supposed to be delivering oxygen-rich blood to my legs and feet, they said, were building up so much plaque that my lower extremities were not getting the blood they needed. It was responsible for my claudication (the medical term for limping) and the chronic leg and foot pain I had thought to be normal.
There are many things that can contribute to PAD: an unhealthy lifestyle and diet, smoking, diabetes, constantly high cholesterol, heart disease (with which it’s closely linked), etc. In my case, the doctors were inclined to blame my diet and smoking. It was high time for changes, they explained before the problems got worse—and “worse”, to my and my family’s horror, could be anything from heart failure to foot ulcers and even limb amputation. Who would have thought that my feet had been trying to warn me of so much all along?
Fortunately, we still caught mine in time for me to make positive changes to my lifestyle. Nowadays, I work closely with a trio of experts that includes my podiatrist, my primary care physician, and my vascular physician in order to manage my PAD symptoms—which have nearly all gone now, thanks to a regime of healthy food, regular and gradually increasing activity, and absolutely no smoking. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s website, smoking is actually the main risk factor for PAD. Considering how many other diseases have tobacco listed as a major risk factor, I had no qualms with throwing out all three boxes of cigarettes in my closet the day after I got the news from the doctor. I also read that there are so many things that one can do to ensure the protection of the lower leg areas, such as doing the right exercises before going jogging.
I strongly suggest that you see your own physician or podiatrist if you experience regular aches in your feet and legs after a bout of activity or exercise: as my podiatrist explained, foot and leg pain is not normal. Feet are not supposed to ache, nor are legs or hips supposed to be in pain following just an hour of regular activity: pain is always indicative of an underlying issue, one that may very well be PAD if you do not take good care of your health and body. You shall still need a licensed specialist to give you a diagnosis, but before that, you may want to look out for the following symptoms of PAD according to the Mayo Clinic:
- In men, impotence is one of the most popular symptoms of peripheral artery disease. In this case, impotence is a normal outcome of low circulation due to hardened arteries.
- Weakness of the leg muscles is accompanied by a lack of feeling.
- Claudication or cramping in the legs, feet, or even hips after activity.
- Sores that refuse to heal if they are found on the legs or feet. This is particularly dangerous, especially if the person is also diabetic.
- Slow hair or nail growth on the legs and feet – again, due to the lack of oxygen, the cells take longer to replicate and do their jobs
- Very weak pulse in the lower legs or feet
- Shiny skin on the legs
Melissa Olsen loves to research and write about all things related to health. She is currently contributing to the Ankle & Foot Centers of Georgia, a home of the local Atlanta podiatrists, where she often studies and writes about the importance of naturally taking care of every part of the body, including the feet.