Peripheral Artery Disease

Leg pain can have many causes. One of the most potentially serious is peripheral artery disease. This happens when arteries that carry blood from the heart to other parts of the body become blocked by an accumulation of cholesterol and other substances. When this occurs in the lower extremities, restricting blood flow to the legs and feet, it can mean problems elsewhere.

“Cholesterol buildup in the leg arteries indicates that there is high probability of cholesterol buildup in other arteries,” says Dr. Shaun Senter, a cardiologist at Washington Regional Cardiovascular Clinic, part of the Washington Regional Walker Heart Institute. “So, people with peripheral artery disease are at risk for other forms of cholesterol buildup in the arteries. Carotid artery disease — cholesterol buildup in the arteries in in the neck — is associated with stroke. The other concern is heart attack due to blockage in the arteries of the heart.”

Risk factors for developing peripheral artery disease include:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol

Fortunately, peripheral artery disease can be diagnosed during a regular medical visit. After reviewing your medical history and symptoms, your health care provider can check the pulses in your legs and feet. A poor pulse can indicate peripheral artery disease. A painless, non-invasive test called ankle-brachial index may be used to compare the blood pressure in your lower legs to the blood pressure in your arms.

Treatment for peripheral artery disease can include medication, non-invasive procedures or surgery. “People diagnosed with peripheral artery disease are often encouraged to walk more---to build blood flow to their legs,” Senter says. “With treatment, most people see improvement in their symptoms.”

It’s important to talk to a health care provider about any recurring leg pain or discomfort. The most common symptoms of lower-extremity peripheral artery disease are cramping, fatigue, aching, pain or discomfort in the leg or hip muscles while walking or climbing stairs. The pain may go away with rest and return upon walking again.

For more information or to make an appointment at Washington Regional Cardiovascular Clinic, click here.