11 Signs Cholesterol Is Harming Your Legs (Peripheral Artery Disease) | Stay Healthy
20
September

By Adem Lewis / in , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , /


11 Signs Cholesterol Is Harming Your Legs What is PAD? Cholesterol can clog the heart’s blood vessels,
but it can also affect the legs, leading to peripheral arterial disease, or PAD. Up to 12 million people in the U.S. have PAD,
which is linked to a higher risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke, says David
Slovut, MD, director of advanced interventional therapy at Montefiore Medical Center. After five years, 20% of people with PAD will
have had a nonfatal heart attack. Here are 11 signs you could have PAD. The good news? It’s treatable. 1. Pain in the legs An extremely common PAD symptom is claudication,
a type of leg pain or discomfort. Because the arteries are clogged, they can’t
deliver enough blood to the legs to support exertion. Some people say their legs feel “heavy” or
tired, or they report a burning pain, Dr. Slovut says. The pain can be in any part of the leg, from
the calf to the thigh or buttock, and it may be in one or both legs. It’s also reproducible: The pain happens when
walking a certain distance (like two blocks), it’s relieved by rest, and then occurs again
when walking the same distance. 2. Nighttime cramps While sleeping, people with PAD may get cramps
or spasms, typically in the heel, forefoot, or toes, says Darren Schneider, MD, director
of the Center for Vascular and Endovascular Surgery at New York–Presbyterian Hospital/Weill
Cornell Medical Center. The pain can often be relieved by dangling
the foot off the bed or sitting in a chair, which allows gravity to assist blood flow
to the feet, Dr. Schneider says. 3. Skin and nail changes PAD can cause changes in the toenails and
the skin on the legs. Because the legs aren’t receiving normal blood
flow or nourishment, you may notice that you are losing hair on the feet and legs, or that
it’s growing back more slowly if you shave it. The skin on the legs may get shiny and tight,
and toenails may thicken or grow more slowly. All of these are usually experienced together,
Dr. Schneider says. 4. Unusual skin coloring One of the things doctors look for is a change
in the color of your legs. When raised, a leg may be white because of
compromised blood flow. Then, when the leg is dangled from the table,
it can turn reddish or purplish in color, says Dr. Schneider, because the body has dilated
the blood vessels to increase flow to the feet. In some people with PAD, the feet or toes
are pale or bluish when they’re sitting, due to a lack of circulation. 5. Cold feet Feet or legs that feel cold, or are cool to
the touch, may be an indicator that you have PAD. But it’s not really the best indicator, says
Dr. Schneider. That’s because this is a common problem, and
it can happen to anyone as he ages—even someone without PAD. However, if you feel like one leg or foot
is cold, but not the other, it could be time to talk to your doctor. 6. Sores that don’t heal In people with more advanced PAD, a reduction
in circulation can result in foot ulcers that don’t heal. Known as ischemic ulcers, these should be
treated quickly, says Dr. Schneider. The ulcers may be brown or black, and they’re
often painful (as opposed to diabetic foot ulcers, which may be painless due to diabetes-related
nerve damage). 7. Erectile dysfunction This is not a common occurrence, but it is
possible for PAD to cause erectile dysfunction, Dr. Slovut says. The internal iliac arteries provide the blood
supply for erections. If both are closed or severely clogged, it
can cause erectile dysfunction (ED). “The number of patients who have ED on the
basis of a vascular problem is a minority of them. I don’t see it a lot, but it can be a vascular
problem,” Dr. Slovut says. 8. Numbness or weakness If your legs or feet feel numb or weak while
you are resting, it could be a sign of PAD. “Some patients will just say their legs get
weak and feel like they will give out, and some get numbness in their feet,” says Dr.
Schneider. People who have symptoms at rest, not just
while walking or exercising, usually have more severe PAD, he says. 9. Atrophy of calf muscles People with more advanced PAD may experience
atrophy, or a reduction in the size of their calf muscle. On the microscopic level, a lack of adequate
blood flow can lead to a decline in the number and size of muscle fibers. In fact, those with severe PAD can lose more
than half of their muscle fibers in an affected area, and the remaining muscle fibers tend
to atrophy or shrink in size. 10. Tissue death About 80% of people with PAD never progress
beyond having relatively mild symptoms, says Dr. Schneider, but a small minority of people
can experience extreme symptoms. In advanced stages, the disease can cause
tissue death and even gangrene, which can be limb- and life-threatening, he says. PAD can even lead to amputation in some cases,
but quitting smoking, eating healthy, taking medication, and even having bypass or angioplasty
can improve circulation in the leg. 11. No symptoms at all Most people with PAD have no symptoms. However, people at a greater risk for PAD
may want to be tested, since the disease ups your chance of heart attack and stroke. PAD is more likely to occur in smokers, people
over 50, and those with diabetes. You’re also more likely to get PAD if you
have high cholesterol or blood pressure, or a strong family history of heart disease or
stroke.


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