Some illnesses, diseases, and medical conditions are defined by the specific causes or biological processes that are occurring, while others are defined mainly by symptoms. Take, for example, a headache. The fundamental problem could be in your circulatory system, endocrine system, your nerves, or your muscles.
Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is similar, in that it’s a broad classification for any condition that reduces blood flow to your lower limbs and extremities, frequently leading to intermittent cramping or muscle pain, especially during activity. However, one cause in particular stands out as by far the most common: atherosclerosis.
Atherosclerosis is the medical term for what a layperson might call “hardened arteries.” Fatty plaque builds up inside the blood vessels or the heart, making them narrower (so less blood can pass through) and less flexible. When plaque builds up in the long arteries leading to the feet, PAD is a common consequences. When it builds up in other areas, such as the heart or brain, other forms of cardiovascular disease such as heart attack or stroke may be the result.
Lifestyle factors are primarily responsible for most cases of atherosclerosis, and by extension PAD. Smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes are the biggest risk factors. Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer in America and atherosclerosis is not likely to be limited to just your legs, so if you notice PAD symptoms, it’s crucial to get help as soon as possible—fortunately, all major risk factors for the disease are treatable or manageable, either through healthy lifestyle changes alone or with some assistance from medication.
In rarer cases, PAD might be caused by something other than plaque deposits on artery walls. Some other conditions may cause inflammation of the blood vessels in the legs, or certain arrangements of muscles and ligaments in your legs might place more-than-usual compression or stress on certain arteries. Even exposure to radiation might be a possible explanation.
When you detect one of the telltale signs of PAD—intermittent cramping or muscle pain in the calf or thigh, cold or shiny skin, or hair loss on the legs—make sure you set up an appointment with Dr. Keith McSpadden soon. An early visit to a specialist can not only help you reverse your painful symptoms—it might even save your life. Schedule an appointment by calling 512-593-2949.