While many people with peripheral artery disease have mild or no symptoms, some people have leg pain when walking (intermittent claudication).
Intermittent claudication symptoms include muscle pain or cramping in your legs or arms that's triggered by activity, such as walking, but disappears after a few minutes of rest. The location of the pain depends on the location of the clogged or narrowed artery. Calf pain is the most common location.
The severity of intermittent claudication varies widely, from mild discomfort to debilitating pain. Severe intermittent claudication can make it hard for you to walk or do other types of physical activity.
Peripheral artery disease symptoms include:
- Painful cramping in your hip, thigh or calf muscles after activity, such as walking or climbing stairs (intermittent claudication)
- Leg numbness or weakness
- Coldness in your lower leg or foot, especially when compared with the other side
- Sores on your toes, feet or legs that won't heal
- A change in the color of your legs
- Hair loss or slower hair growth on your feet and legs
- Slower growth of your toenails
- Shiny skin on your legs
- No pulse or a weak pulse in your legs or feet
- Erectile dysfunction in men
If peripheral artery disease progresses, pain may even occur when you're at rest or when you're lying down (ischemic rest pain). It may be intense enough to disrupt sleep. Hanging your legs over the edge of your bed or walking around your room may temporarily relieve the pain.
When to see a doctor
If you have leg pain, numbness or other symptoms, don't dismiss them as a normal part of aging. Call your doctor and make an appointment.
Even if you don't have symptoms of peripheral artery disease, you may need to be screened if you are:
- Over age 70
- Over age 50 and have a history of diabetes or smoking
- Under age 50, but have diabetes and other peripheral artery disease risk factors, such as obesity or high blood pressure.
Peripheral artery disease is often caused by atherosclerosis. In atherosclerosis, fatty deposits (plaques) build up in your artery walls and reduce blood flow.
Although the heart is usually the focus of discussion of atherosclerosis, this disease can and usually does affect arteries throughout your body. When it occurs in the arteries supplying blood to your limbs, it causes peripheral artery disease.
Less commonly, the cause of peripheral artery disease may be blood vessel inflammation, injury to your limbs, unusual anatomy of your ligaments or muscles, or radiation exposure.
Treatment for peripheral artery disease has two major goals. The first is to manage symptoms, such as leg pain, so that you can resume physical activities. The second is to stop the progression of atherosclerosis throughout your body to reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.
• Angioplasty and surgery. In this procedure, a small hollow tube (catheter) is threaded through a blood vessel to the affected artery. There, a small balloon on the tip of the catheter is inflated to reopen the artery and flatten the blockage into the artery wall, while at the same time stretching the artery open to increase blood flow. Your doctor may also insert a mesh framework called a stent in the artery to help keep it open. This is the same procedure doctors use to open heart arteries.
• Bypass surgery.Your doctor may create a graft bypass using a vessel from another part of your body or a blood vessel made of synthetic fabric. This technique allows blood to flow around — or bypass — the blocked or narrowed artery.
• Thrombolytic therapy. If you have a blood clot blocking an artery, your doctor may inject a clot-dissolving drug into your artery at the point of the clot to break it up.