Peripheral arterial disease: symptoms and causes

Peripheral arterial disease is a circulatory problem, where the arteries reduce blood flow to the extremities. This disease is caused by arteriosclerosis. Which occurs when plaque (a substance made up of fat and cholesterol), is deposited on the walls of the arteries that supply blood to the arms and legs.

The main risk factor is smoking, aging follows. Also, conditions like diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, and stroke. Therefore, it is vitally important that you have knowledge about the symptoms and causes of peripheral arterial disease, but before explaining these details you must know what it is and what types can occur.

What is peripheral arterial disease?

It is an arterial disease that occurs outside the heart or brain, in which the arteries that carry oxygenated blood through the body are reduced or blocked. As a result of atherosclerosis or plaque.

This disease affects the arteries in the legs and can also affect the blood. Also, the arteries that carry blood to the head, arms, kidneys and gastrointestinal tract.

Patients may have mild symptoms or be asymptomatic. Others suffer from claudication, or pain in the leg when walking.

Among the risk factors for this disease, is the diabetes, smoking, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. It generally occurs in people over 50 years of age.

Types of peripheral arterial disease

There is a classification for this disease based on La Fontaine studies, which determines the type and level of severity of it, and is as follows:

Grade I

Patients do not feel pain or discomfort.

Grade II a

Pain patients; when they walk more than 100 meters (intermittent claudication).

Grade II b

Pain patients: when they walk less than 100 meters (intermittent claudication).

Grade III

Patients present pain while at rest.

Grade IV

Existence of ulcers or gangrene in patients.

Risk factors for peripheral arterial disease

There are a number of risk factors, some can be changed and others cannot. Here are some of them:

Among the risk factors that cannot be changed are:

  • Age (being over 50 is considered a risk factor).
  • Family history of heart disease.
  • Belonging to the male sex (sex with the highest incidence to suffer from this disease).
  • Diabetes mellitus.
  • Post menopause.
  • Family history of dyslipidemia (high level of lipids in the blood).
  • Risk factors that can be changed or treated include:
  • Coronary artery disease.
  • Reduced glucose tolerance.
  • The hypertension.
  • The obesity.
  • The sedentary lifestyle.
  • Smoking.

What are the symptoms of this disease?

Some people with this disease have no symptoms. But for others, who do present them, the first symptom is usually pain in one or both legs, similar to a cramp that is accentuated when doing some exercise. Similarly, it is relieved when you remain at rest, this is called intermittent claudication.

The general symptoms of peripheral arterial disease are:

  • Lower temperature on the skin of the legs.
  • The skin on the legs becomes thin, weak and shiny.
  • Reduction of pulsations in legs and feet.
  • Presence of dead tissue due to lack of blood flow (gangrene).
  • Decreased hair growth on the legs and toenails.
  • Erectile dysfunction.
  • Numbness and weakness in the muscles.
  • Difficult healing of wounds on the heels and ankles.
  • Pain in the toes when resting.
  • Paleness when raising the legs.
  • Reddish or bluish color on the skin of the extremities.
  • Limitation of movement.
  • Sharp pain
  • Toenails are thicker and dull.

What are the causes of this condition?

The main cause of peripheral arterial disease is atherosclerosis. It is the accumulation of plaque on the inside of the walls of the arteries. The formation of this plaque decreases the amount of blood that flows to the extremities. As a result, it reduces the oxygen and nutrients available to the tissues.

Other common causes are trauma to the arms or legs. Also, irregularities in the anatomy of the muscles or ligaments and infections.

People with coronary heart disease are also prone to peripheral artery disease.

Among the risk factors related to the appearance of this disease are: tobacco use and diabetes.

The rare causes associated with this condition are Buerger’s disease. Similarly, fibromuscular dysplasia, vasculitis or trauma.

What complications can occur in a patient with peripheral arterial disease?

The complications that can occur in patients with this disease are the following:

  • Severe pain in the affected limb.
  • Heart attack.
  • Stroke.
  • Amputation.
  • Limitation of movement.
  • Wounds or ulcers.

How to prevent it?

This disease is prevented by controlling the risk factors specified above. To prevent it, we must take into account the following recommendations:

  • Do not smoke, this includes being a passive smoker. Also, the consumption of products that contain tobacco.
  • Have a balanced diet, where the consumption of fruits and vegetables is increased. Avoid eating excess fat and carbohydrates.
  • Avoid obesity.
  • Moderate alcohol consumption.
  • Treatment under medical prescription with medicines in case of dyslipidemia (high level of cholesterol in the blood).
  • Prescription drug treatment to lower the risk of blood clots.
  • Perform an exercise routine.
  • Control diabetes mellitus.
  • Control hypertension.

Immediate changes in diet

It is important to emphasize that the person who suffers from peripheral arterial disease has a considerable risk of suffering a heart attack. Similarly, stroke or a transient ischemic attack.

For a reliable diagnosis, the specialist doctor must perform a physical examination as well as imaging tests. What’s more, treatment that includes lifestyle changes (diet and exercise) should be followed, medications and in some cases, surgery.

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