Peripheral artery disease, or PAD, causes reduced blood flow to the legs as a result of plaque buildup in the arteries, according to WebMD. As plaque increases, the arteries narrow.
The reduced blood flow decreases the amount of oxygen available to the muscles in the legs, explains MedlinePlus. This causes pain, aching, burning and muscle fatigue with activity – the primary symptoms of PAD. Initially, the pain occurs with significant activity. Over time, the discomfort appears with less exertion. The legs and feet may also look pale, feel cool to the touch and feel numb, even at rest.
As PAD progresses, the calf muscles can atrophy, notes MedlinePlus. Painful cramping of the muscles at night; shiny, tight skin; hair loss over the legs, feet, and toes; thickened toenails and the development of slow healing, painful sores may occur. Men may also experience impotence.
Treatment for PAD involves lifestyle changes and medical management, states Mayo Clinic. Lifestyle changes may involve smoking cessation, adopting a heart healthy diet and engaging in a supervised exercise program. Medical management involves the use of medications to lower cholesterol, control high blood pressure and diabetes and address the potential for blood clots. Medications for symptom relief may also be utilized. In some cases, surgical intervention through angioplasty or bypass surgery may be necessary.
Risk factors for PAD include high cholesterol, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure, states MedlinePlus. Kidney disease requiring dialysis, a history of stroke and smoking are additional risk factors.