Did you know your heart health is closely linked to your legs?

It is estimated over 200 million people around the world today suffer from Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD), a common condition that affects one’s legs, which in turn can be indicative of heart disease. Yet PAD is relatively underdiagnosed, even among patients who have a history of heart disease.

Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) is an abnormal narrowing of arteries in areas besides the heart. PAD typically affects the arteries in the legs, resulting in reduced blood flow to your limbs.

This causes leg pain or cramping when walking. The narrowing of arteries is usually caused by build-up of fatty deposits, but there are other factors that contribute to PAD.

Chemicals in cigarette smoke cause the cells that line blood vessels to become swollen and inflamed. This leads to the narrowing of blood vessels.

High blood glucose from diabetes can damage your blood vessels and nerves that control your heart and blood vessels.

Excess cholesterol and fat in your blood contribute to the formation of plaque in the arteries, reducing or blocking blood flow to your limbs.

The chances of PAD increase significantly after age 40. This increases to 1 in 7 over 70, and 1 in 4 over 80. However, people in their 30s can develop PAD due to lifestyle choices.

If you have a history of heart disease or heart attacks, you have a 1 in 3 chance of also having PAD due to the buildup of fat deposits in your arteries.

Untreated high blood pressure puts an extra strain on the arteries in your arms and legs, causing the blood vessels to narrow or become damaged.

People with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 25 or higher are 1.5 times more likely to develop PAD.

How do I know if I have PAD?

Many people who develop PAD often have no symptoms especially in the early stages. But more than 40% of PAD patients will develop the following symptoms in both legs:

The narrowing of arteries makes it harder for blood to flow through due to plaque buildup or blockage. This results in muscle pain or numbness when walking.

When the skin temperature drops, this can cause one’s skin to appear pale or ‘shiny’. The skin area around the legs will also take on a bluish tint – a telltale sign of poor oxygen flow.

PAD results in poor blood circulation for both legs, preventing leg hair from growing and causing brittle toenails. Leg hair loss is another common symptom of clogged arteries.

When not enough nutrient-rich blood flows through the legs, the overlying skin and tissues are deprived of oxygen and die, resulting in open wounds. The lack of blood supply also prevents wounds from healing quickly.

PAD causes leg muscles to atrophy and shrink, resulting in reduced leg strength. A total loss of circulation will result in gangrene and loss of limb.

What complications may arise if I do not treat PAD?

If left untreated, PAD may result in the following complications:

When blood flow is severely reduced in your legs, this increases the risk for infection that can lead to tissue death and decay

A serious obstruction of the arteries which markedly reduces blood flow to one’s hands, feet, and legs. When the blood flow isn’t able to meet the metabolic demands of the tissue, this results in severe persistent pain.

Body tissue death, caused by loss of blood supply and/or infection. Gangrene commonly affects one’s limbs, fingers, and toes, and even inside the body.

Men with PAD are more likely to get ED. Maintaining an erection requires a healthy blood flow – difficult to achieve with clogged blood vessels in your legs.

What if I suspect I have PAD?

Book an appointment with a local cardiologist to verify PAD. If PAD is officially diagnosed, it can be treated with peripheral vascular intervention (PVI), a non-invasive treatment which helps to restore blood flow in one’s arteries.

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