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Peripheral Arterial Disease

Peripheral arterial disease is caused by arteriosclerosis , or "hardening of the arteries." This problem occurs when fatty material and a substance called plaque build up on the walls of your arteries. This causes the arteries to become narrower. The walls of the arteries also become stiffer and cannot widen (dilate) to allow greater blood flow when needed.

As a result, when the muscles of your legs are working harder (such as during exercise) they cannot get enough blood and oxygen. Eventually, there may not be enough blood and oxygen, even when the muscles are resting.

Symptoms:

The classic symptoms are pain, achiness, fatigue, burning, or discomfort in the muscles of your feet, calves, or thighs. These symptoms start during exercise and go away after several minutes of rest.

  • At first, these symptoms may be present only when you walk uphill, walk faster, or walk for longer distances.
  • Slowly, these symptoms come more quickly and with less exercise.

Your legs or feet may feel numb when you are at rest. They also may feel cool to the touch, and the skin may appear pale.

When peripheral artery disease becomes severe, you may have:

  • Pain or tingling in the foot or toes, which can be so severe that even the weight of clothes or bed sheets is painful.
  • Pain that is worse when the leg is elevated and improves when you dangle your legs over the side of the bed.

Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of peripheral artery disease.

Treatment:

Treatment options may include:

Self-care:
  • Balance exercise with rest. Walk or do another activity to the point of pain and alternate it with rest periods. Over time, circulation may improve as new, small (collateral) blood vessels form. Always talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program.
  • Stop smoking. Smoking tightens arteries, decreases the blood's ability to carry oxygen, and increases the risk of forming clots (thrombi and emboli).
  • Foot care is particularly important if you also have diabetes. Wear shoes that fit properly. Pay attention to any cuts, scrapes, or injuries, and see your doctor right away. The tissues heal slowly and are prone to infection when there is decreased circulation.
  • If your cholesterol is high, eat a low-cholesterol and low-fat diet.

Medications may be required to control the disorder, including:
  • Aspirin, which keeps your blood from forming clots in your arteries. Do NOT stop taking these medications without first talking with your doctor.
  • Pain relievers
  • Medicine to help lower your cholesterol

If you are taking medicines for high blood pressure or diabetes, take them as your doctor has prescribed.

Surgery may be performed in more severe cases if the condition is affecting your ability to work or pursue essential activities, or you are having pain at rest. Surgery options may include:
  • Peripheral artery bypass surgery of the leg.
  • Angioplasty and stent placement of the peripheral arteries (a similar technique to that used to open the coronary arteries, but performed on the blood vessels of the affected extremity).

Texas Health is committed to providing quality care to heart and vascular patients throughout North Texas and beyond. While various technologies and services are discussed here, not all of our hospitals offer every treatment and diagnostic technology highlighted. Call 1-877-THR-WELL to learn more about heart and vascular services at a Texas Health hospital near you