Like most of us, you’ve probably had your share of aches and pains. Sometimes you can attribute them to a specific event—helping a friend move a heavy piece of furniture or pulling a muscle after bowling for the first time in years. Other times the pain comes on more gradually. You might think it’s just another sign that you’re getting older, As you age, especially if you have other health concerns, such as diabetes, it’s important to tell your doctor about all your aches and pains, especially if you have cramping, fatigue, heaviness, tightness, or weakness in the legs while walking, running, climbing stairs or engaging in other activities.
These could be symptoms of peripheral artery disease (PAD)—a buildup of plaque and blockages in the arteries that restrict the flow of blood to your legs. PAD can cause pain called claudication. Unlike pulling a muscle or spraining an ankle, pain from PAD often goes away when you stop and rest. That’s called intermittent claudication.
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How will you know if you have peripheral artery disease? Listen as Dr. John P. Reilly discusses what PAD symptoms may feel like.
Symptoms of PAD
Common symptoms of PAD include the following:
- aching or burning sensation in the muscles (not the joints) of your legs or arms, when walking up a hill or doing repetitive arm exercises, such as hanging up laundry. The sensation stops after you've taken a short break
- legs feel tired or heavy
- discoloration of or numbness in the legs or feet
- sores on the toes, feet, or legs that won't heal
Other Symptoms of PAD
People with PAD sometimes have other symptoms, too:
- Slowed walking pace
- Changes in your walk, such as a limp
- Pain while resting
- Pain in feet or toes that hurts more when they are elevated
- Change in color, especially redness of the skin on your legs
- Burning or aching feet
- Numbness in the legs
- One leg or foot feels cooler than the other
- Loss of hair below a certain point on the legs
- Color is slow to return after pressing down on your leg with your thumb
PAD Without Pain
You can also have PAD without any symptoms. In fact, at least half the people who have PAD do not have any symptoms or fail to recognize their symptoms as PAD. Too often, people think the pain they feel is part of the aging process and they don’t get help as early as they should.
That’s why it’s so important to see your doctor regularly and ask about PAD. Use SecondsCount to learn more about PAD before it affects your ability to do those things you love or puts you at greater risk for a heart attack or stroke.
Zero in on Symptoms and Risk Factors
You are at risk for PAD and should see your doctor if you…
- have symptoms of PAD
- are over 70
- are over 50 with other risk factors such as diabetes or a history of smoking
If you’re still not sure about your symptoms, try the “SecondsCount PAD Symptoms Log”. Now that you know what symptoms to look for, you can use the log to monitor your activities and how you feel for a week. Then, take the Log and “Questions to Ask Your Doctor about PAD” to your next appointment. It will help you and your doctor find the best approach to making you feel better.
Still not sure what to do? Take the SecondsCount PAD Check: Are You at Risk? But don’t delay. The only way to know for sure is to make an appointment and discuss it with your doctor.
The earlier PAD is recognized, the easier it is to treat. And everything you can do to treat PAD, for example, walking, eating a heart healthy diet, and managing your diabetes, are good for you anyway.
PAD Left Untreated
If you’ve already had PAD for some time without realizing it, you might have pain in your legs, feet, and toes all the time—even while you’re resting. Watch for sores on your feet and toes. You could have critical limb ischemia (CLI) or severely blocked arteries in your legs. If the flow of blood to your legs and feet continues to be restricted, the sores will not receive the oxygen and nutrients they need to heal and the affected tissue may die and develop gangrene. Toes, feet, and legs affected by gangrene may have to be amputated.
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If you have PAD, you could be a greater risk for heart attack than amputation. Dr. Sahil A. Parikh explains why.
Of course, it’s better to get help long before you reach this stage—not only to avoid sores and gangrene, but because PAD is an indication that your blood might not be making it to your heart, brain, or kidneys as it should. You may already have trouble walking and doing other activities you could do before PAD, but a heart attack or stroke could restrict you even more.
SecondsCount PAD Symptoms Log
If you think you might have peripheral artery disease (PAD), use this log to monitor your symptoms for one week and share your findings with your doctor. But don’t wait too long to make an appointment. The earlier PAD is recognized, the easier it is to treat.
You can print a copy (PDF version) of the SecondsCount PAD Symptoms Log here. Carry it everywhere you go for a week.
Are you at risk for PAD?
You can print a copy (PDF version) of the SecondsCount PAD Check: Are You at Risk? test here.