Peripheral artery disease, also known as PAD, represents a serious threat to the health and safety of your feet and legs. There are a couple of reasons why this is the case.
The first, most obviously, is the danger posed by the condition itself. PAD is typically the result of the arteries supplying blood to the extremities becoming narrowed and clogged by deposits of plaque. When blood flow is reduced to the feet and legs, you’re at far greater risk of developing ulcers, injuries, nerve damage, and other problems that (if left unchecked) could even lead to amputation.
The second is that, if you don’t educate yourself about PAD, there’s a very real chance you’ll miss the early warning signs. The symptoms are often shrugged off as “not serious” until the disease has reached an advanced state. And in some cases, there are no outwardly noticeable symptoms at all.
Fortunately, PAD is manageable, and there’s a lot you can do to significantly improve your long-term outcomes. The earlier you take action, the better.
First Step: Figure Out if You Have PAD
As a general rule, you should never ignore strange or uncomfortable symptoms in your feet or legs. Common symptoms associated with PAD include:
- Painful cramping in your hips, thighs, or calves, especially after activity
- Intermittent numbness, coldness, or weakness in your feet and/or lower legs
- Hair loss on your feet or legs
- Color changes or “shiny skin”
- Weak pulse in your legs
Again, it’s important to stress that you might not necessarily develop all the above symptoms if you have PAD, and in fact may not develop any noticeable symptoms at all until after the condition has become serious. So, in addition to getting tested if you develop any PAD symptoms, we strongly encourage regular testing for asymptomatic individuals who are either:
- 65 and older, or
- 50-64 with at least one significant risk factor for PAD. The “big ones” include diabetes, venous insufficiency, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, family history, and history of smoking.
Step 2: Getting the Right Treatment
The bad news is that plaque build-up in arteries is not always reversible without surgical intervention. The good news, however, is that (especially when caught early) PAD is usually manageable with a variety of conservative methods. Main goals of treatment will be to:
- Reduce any pain or adverse symptoms you may already be dealing with, so they don’t interfere with your lifestyle.
- Keep your PAD from getting worse, typically by encouraging healthier living habits.
The specific treatment approach can vary from person to person based on the nature and severity of the condition. Some of the most frequent strategies include:
- Getting underlying conditions under control. Diabetes is the big one here. If you have it, make sure you’re testing regularly and keeping your blood sugar within a healthy range to the greatest extent possible. Frequent periods of elevated sugar levels are toxic to circulatory health.
- Regular exercise. It will be important to work with us on developing an effective, carefully regulated exercise routine. Regular exercise is crucial for stopping PAD progression, but exercising without a good plan can also be painful for those who already have the condition, or even put them at risk of wounds or injuries.
- Healthy diet. Eating a heart-healthy diet low in saturated fat is a good choice for just about anyone’s overall health, but is especially critical for those with PAD.
- Quitting smoking. Tobacco is a huge, huge risk factor for PAD, with both long-term and short-term effects on circulation. If you’re a smoker, quitting as soon as possible is one of the single most important steps you can take.
- Taking certain medications. In addition to prescribing medications to control blood pressure or cholesterol (if necessary), we may also may recommend medications meant to widen blood vessels, thin blood, and/or prevent clotting, as they may help with symptoms.
Avoiding certain medications. You may need to avoid certain medications that can constrict your blood vessels, such as pseudoephedrine.
- Surgery. If an artery has become severely clogged at a certain point, surgery may be recommended to restore blood flow and alleviate symptoms such as constant cramping. Common approaches include angioplasty (a minimally invasive procedure that uses a balloon on a catheter to flatten plaque and widen the blood vessel) and bypass surgery.
Your No. 1 Stop for Comprehensive PAD Testing and Care
Because PAD poses such significant risks for feet and ankles, making sure patients get the testing and care they need should be a top concern for any podiatrist. And at Austin Foot and Ankle Specialists, we’ve made it a top priority for our practice.
- In-office diagnostic testing via the simple, painless, and non-invasive PADnet system. If you have diabetes or are in a high-risk category, this may be a standard part of your exam even if you come in to see us for an unrelated foot or ankle issue.
- A direct partnership with a new local laboratory that gives our patients quick, hassle-free access to higher level testing, should it be required.
- Direct and preventative care for PAD, as described above.
- Direct care for many of the most common and potentially serious complications of PAD, including advanced wound care, advanced neuropathy care (Dr. Thomajan is a fellow of the Association of Extremity Nerve Surgeons), and more.
- Referrals to trusted cardiovascular specialists when appropriate.
We know how confusing and frustrating it can be to try to juggle referrals and appointments with multiple specialists in multiple health systems on multiple days (and often only after lengthy delays), so we’ve worked hard to streamline and simplify the process. For many people with PAD, they now can get the vast majority of their testing and care right here, usually much sooner than they could elsewhere.
If you think you may have PAD, or are over 50 and have one or more risk factors, don’t wait any longer to get tested. It’s quick, safe, and could literally save your life. Give us a call at (512) 328-8900, or schedule an appointment online today.
5000 Bee Caves Rd., Suite 202
Austin, TX 78746