Our bodies give us clues about our health all the time, but they can often be difficult to interpret at first. If you notice strange symptoms like shiny skin on your lower legs, numbness, or painful cramping on your thighs and calves, you might have a condition known as peripheral artery disease.
What are the typical symptoms of peripheral arterial disease?
According to the Mayo Clinic, peripheral artery disease (PAD) is caused by fatty deposits in the arteries making them more narrow and messing with the blood flow to our legs. It also puts those with it at a higher risk of coronary artery disease (CAD), heart attack, and stroke. Unfortunately, because the symptoms of PAD can be mild and easily be confused with other diseases, it frequently gets misdiagnosed.
Calf pain, especially while walking, and a shiny skin appearance are two major signs. Here are more symptoms shared by the Mayo Clinic and American Heart Association:
- Cramping in one or both sides of your hip, thighs, or calves after activities
- Leg numbness or weakness
- Lower temperature on one leg or foot versus the other and rest of your body
- Sores on feet, toes, and legs that don’t seem to heal
- Hair loss and slow growth on legs
- Poor nail growth
- Weak pulse on legs
These signs can also show up on your arms, but that’s less common. Other factors that put you more at risk for PAD include being over 65 or over 60 with a history of diabetes or smoking. The AHA warns that if left untreated, it can lead to gangrene or amputation.
Can you reverse peripheral artery disease?
Fortunately, you can ask your doctor for specific diagnostic tests if you’re worried about your symptoms. An ankle-brachial index (ABI) compares the difference in blood pressure between your lower legs and your arms. The AHA explains that it’s totally painless and takes just a few minutes. An ABI of .90 or lower could point to a PAD diagnosis. If the levels are normal and you’re still unsure, you may need an MRA, CT scan, or angiogram to get a better look at how your arteries are doing.
You also shouldn’t panic if you discover you do have PAD — it’s perfectly treatable through medication like aspirin, heart healthy diet changes, and exercise. The important thing is to catch it early and not just shrug it off as regular leg pain. Knowing what to look for is the best first step in making sure you stay healthy!