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PAD Symptoms Are Easily Mistaken for Other Medical Issues – Which Could Be a Big Problem

Posted by Mehran Massumi, M.D. on Aug 4, 2018, 8:56:00 AM

Some diseases, conditions, and health problems have clear-cut symptoms. If you have arthritis, your joints hurt. Parkinson’s causes tremors. Heart attack, stroke, and even a urinary tract infection are accompanied by recognizable, tell-tale signs. Such is not always the case with peripheral artery disease (PAD). Its symptoms are often ambiguous, which means that sometimes we have to perform tests to rule out other issues – and no patient likes to be poked or prodded more than necessary. 

Narrowed Arteries and PAD Go Hand-in-Hand

Your arteries carry oxygen-rich blood to your body. If your arteries are normal with no blockages or narrowing, the blood flows freely and correctly. People with PAD have narrowed arteries. This means the body has to work harder to move blood through those arteries, causing reduced blood flow to limbs – most often legs. This can cause pain and cramping when walking. But so can many other medical issues.

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The Masquerade

PAD doesn’t cause only cramping and leg pain. Here are the other symptoms you might notice if you have the disease:

  • A change in the color of your legs.
  • Slower growth of toenails.
  • Sores on your toes, feet, or legs that won’t heal.
  • Cramping in your hip, thighs or calf muscles after certain activities.
  • Weakness or numbness in legs.
  • Coldness in your lower leg or foot.
  • Shiny skin on your legs.
  • No pulse or a weak pulse in your legs or feet.
  • Erectile dysfunction in men. 

If every patient with PAD had almost every one of these symptoms, the diagnosis might be obvious. But patients usually don’t have many of these symptoms. In fact, they might have symptoms they don’t even notice – like slow-growing toenails. In addition, many PAD symptoms can be mistaken for other issues, such as diabetic nerve pain, fibromyalgia, or erectile dysfunction on its own. 

Unfortunately, because PAD is essentially cutting off blood flow to your lower extremities, it can be extremely serious if untreated. In fact, people with PAD are at a much higher risk of stroke, coronary artery disease, and heart attacks. It can also lead to gangrene and amputation because of reduced, and sometimes complete lack, of blood flow.

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What Are the Treatment Options?

Thankfully, if PAD is caught early, there are treatment options. First of all, if you smoke, stop immediately, as this is a huge contributor to the narrowing of arteries. Other lifestyle changes, like eating a heart-healthy diet, drinking lots of water, and exercising are also beneficial in the treatment of PAD. Occasionally, medication is also recommended to help with blood flow. In some situations, angioplasty or surgery may be necessary. The bottom line is, if you’re having any of the symptoms indicative of PAD, make an appointment with your physician as soon as possible. 

Massumi, Mehran

Dr. Massumi is a board-certified physician who specializes in Cardiology at Kelsey-Seybold’s Berthelsen Main Campus. His clinical interests include coronary artery disease, structural heart disease, abdominal aortic aneurysm repair, peripheral vascular disease, and advanced mechanical circulatory support.


Topics: PAD symptoms, peripheral artery disease, How is peripheral artery disease treated?

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