Problems with Your Legs? Could Be a Warning Sign of Arterial Disease

By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.

A new study from Scotland published in The Lancet journal indicates that the worldwide incidence of peripheral artery disease (PAD) increased alarmingly by about 23 percent in the decade from 2000 to 2010. Globally, just over 200 million people have the condition, which rises with age in both sexes, but which appears to affect more women than men over the age of 40.

PAD involves the deterioration of the arteries that supply your lower extremities and doesn’t get the urgent attention usually accorded to disease of the arteries that feed the heart and brain. It is often undiagnosed by doctors, and the symptoms not taken seriously by patients, or thought to be something else.

However, PAD can lead to loss of mobility, functional decline, gangrene and amputation, and a much higher risk of serious cardiovascular events like heart attack or stroke. Here are common symptoms: cramping in your hip, thigh or calf muscles after walking or climbing steps; numbness or weakness in the legs; coldness in one leg or foot; erectile dysfunction; weak pulse in the legs and feet; non-healing sores of the lower extremities; a change in the color of your legs; slow growth of toenails.

Access study here.

My Viewpoint: Most diagnoses of arterial disease are associated with the blood vessels that feed the heart or brain. That’s because inflammation, plaque, or blockage in your coronary or carotid arteries can clearly lead to heart attacks and stroke. However, if you have arterial disease in one place, you likely have it in others. Typical risk factors are smoking, diabetes, and hypertension.

What This Means To You: Any symptom of PAD should be treated as potentially serious business. The consequences of PAD are not fully appreciated by doctors, health payers, and the public.

Recommendation: Any symptom with the legs should motivate you to see your doctor who can give you a PAD checkup. Conventional treatments include medication, exercise therapy, surgical revascularization, and lower extremity compression techniques.

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