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What are the Symptoms of Peripheral Arterial Disease?

Your peripheral arteries are the vessels that carry blood away from your heart and toward the outer areas of your body. If you have peripheral arterial disease (PAD), the disease narrows your arteries, making it more difficult for your heart to pump oxygenating, nourishing blood to your legs, arms, head, and digestive organs. Depending on which arteries are affected by PAD, you could be at increased risk for:

The good news is that a vascular surgeon can easily diagnose and treat PAD if you’re having symptoms of the disease, or if you’re at risk for developing PAD. Ellis A. Tinsley, MD, FACS, FSVS, an expert vascular and general surgeon, has extensive experience screening for, diagnosing, and treating PAD at Tinsley Surgical in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Why you get PAD

Peripheral arterial disease is a type of atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis occurs when a substance called plaque builds up in your arteries and hardens. Plaque is composed of:

When plaque builds up and hardens over time, it constricts the opening in your arteries. Just as a clogged drain makes it hard for water to flow, plaque-clogged arteries make it harder for your blood to flow. You’re at increased risk for PAD if you:

African Americans are more likely than any other ethnic group to develop PAD. You also have an increased risk for PAD if someone in your family had it.

What it feels like when you have PAD

Unfortunately, PAD often doesn’t have any symptoms at all. That’s why it’s important to get screened if you’re over age 70, or if you’re younger and have risk factors for PAD. If you do have symptoms, they could easily be mistaken for another condition, or dismissed as the

“normal” aches and pains of getting older.

Because PAD affects your circulation — particularly in your lower body — you might notice changes in the appearance or feel of your legs and feet. Classic symptoms of PAD include:

Men with PAD may have trouble getting or achieving an erection. If you do have PAD symptoms and don’t get treatment, they may worsen to the point where the pain keeps you up at night.  

No symptoms? Get screened

Even if you don’t have symptoms of PAD, you should be screened regularly if you’re over 70 and don’t have risk factors or symptoms; over 50 and have a history of smoking or diabetes; or under 50 and have diabetes along with at least one other risk factor. Though untreated PAD puts you at risk for heart disease, stroke, and limb amputation, when Dr. Tinsley catches it early enough, he can treat it and stop its progression. You may even be able to control and reverse your PAD through lifestyle changes.

Screening is easy, whether you have symptoms or not

At Tinsley Surgical, Dr. Tinsley evaluates you for PAD by first conducting a thorough physical examination, where he looks for changes in your skin and other signs of disease. He also compares the blood pressure in your legs and feet to that in your arm. If they’re the same you don’t have PAD, but if your blood pressure is lower in your legs, you probably have PAD. 

If he suspects PAD, he may evaluate how well your blood is flowing and identify any blockages through a Doppler ultrasound test. He may also perform angiography by injecting a dye into your legs or another area that makes it easier to watch your blood flowing through your veins. 

He could also perform a procedure called catheter angiography that combines diagnosis with treatment. If you need catheter angiography, Dr. Tinsley can perform it in the hospital or at his office. He gives you a mild sedative while he surgically inserts the catheter (i.e., a thin tube) into your groin area.

Once he’s placed the catheter, he injects a contrast dye through the tube. He then uses low-dose X-rays to evaluate the blockage in your arteries. He can unblock and repair damaged arteries, and also place a stent, if necessary, that keeps your artery open so your blood can flow freely again.

If you think you may have PAD or at risk for developing it, contact us for an evaluation and possible diagnosis and treatment today.

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