Your Heart and Your Feet: Peripheral Artery Disease

February is American Heart Month, a time when the nation spotlights heart disease. A healthy heart means good circulation, in which nutrients and oxygen-rich blood can flow to your lower extremities and keep your feet healthy. Give your heart health a boost by keeping peripheral artery disease at bay.

What Is Peripheral Artery Disease?

Peripheral artery disease (PAD), also known as peripheral arterial disease, is a circulatory condition where the arteries narrow and reduce blood flow to the arms or, most commonly, legs.  With blood flow not keeping up with demand, leg pain and other symptoms can occur. PAD is usually caused by atherosclerosis, the buildup of fatty plaque in the arteries.

Risk Factors of PAD

Peripheral artery disease risk factors include:

  • a sedentary lifestyle,
  • being over age 60,
  • having diabetes,
  • high blood pressure,
  • high cholesterol,
  • and smoking.

Those with PAD are at risk for developing coronary artery disease (CAD), the most common type of heart disease in the US, and cerebrovascular disease, conditions that affect blood flow to the brain. These could both lead to a heart attack or stroke.

Signs and Symptoms of PAD

It’s usually when the arteries are significantly blocked that symptoms are noticed. Common symptoms of peripheral artery disease include:

  • a change in leg color,
  • changes in toenail color and thickness,
  • cold legs or feet,
  • hair loss on the feet and legs,
  • numb or weak legs,
  • leg pain that occurs while lying down (rest pain),
  • leg pain that occurs while walking (intermittent claudication),
  • and sores on toes, feet, or legs that don’t heal.

If PAD is left untreated and you wait to undergo a non-surgical procedure, you may need a more intensive surgery. Be sure to discuss any symptoms present with a foot and ankle surgeon.

Treatment for PAD

Peripheral arterial disease treatment involves lifestyle changes, medication, and surgery.

  • Being on a heart-healthy diet, regularly exercising, and no longer smoking are lifestyle changes you can make.
  • You may be prescribed medication to improve blood flow, prevent blood clots, or control blood glucose levels, blood pressure, and cholesterol.
  • Surgery to improve blood flow may be needed. Peripheral artery bypass surgery reroutes the blood supply to go around a blocked artery in the leg. Endovascular surgery is a less evasive procedure in which a small incision is made to access the blood vessels.

Complications of PAD

Since blood is necessary for healing, small problems like cuts, blisters, and sores can turn into serious complications for people with PAD. Ulcers could also develop over foot deformities and never heal.

Having diabetes further increases complications, as diabetics with peripheral neuropathy may not feel pain when foot problems occur.

To avoid complications:

  • always wear seamless socks and shoes that fit well.
  • apply a thin coat of lotion to the tops and bottoms of dry feet, but not between the toes.
  • check your feet daily for blisters, bruises, calluses, corns, cuts, ingrown toenails, rashes, red spots, sores, swelling, and toenail infections.
  • get regular foot exams.
  • trim toenails straight across and file the edges, so they’re rounded to prevent ingrown toenails.
  • wash your feet daily with warm water and mild soap, and dry thoroughly.

Keep Your Feet and Heart Healthy

Our expert podiatrists are here to help you overcome a wide range of foot and ankle ailments so you can return to a healthy, active lifestyle. At The Foot & Ankle Center, we provide thorough evaluations and personalized treatment plans, offer safe and effective treatments that provide fast relief, and have same-day appointments available.

Call us today at (314) 487-9300 or request an appointment online with us!