Peripheral Arterial Disease
Peripheral arterial disease (PAD), also known as peripheral vascular disease (PVD), affects more than 18 million Americans but many are unaware that they have it. PAD occurs when there is plaque buildup in the walls of the peripheral arteries, which can restrict blood flow to your extremities and internal organs.
In PAD the veins and arteries that provide the body’s blood are becoming clogged and providing an insufficient blood supply. This can affect your body’s systems and organs, including the heart and brain.
For many people, pain and cramping in the legs is the first sign of PAD. You may notice pain while resting your feet on a footstool. You may feel leg cramps while sleeping. As you walk around, there might be a persistent dull ache in your legs.
The condition is often noticed in the legs because they provide a huge amount of pumping action for the blood supply in the body. When the legs’ circulation is restricted, a person may see or feel leg pain, tingling, numbness, coldness, color changes, and wounds.
People in the early stages of PVD often report that their legs feel heavy or weak. At night when they’re resting, their legs may experience a burning or aching sensation.
If your leg pain ceases when activity ends, it’s known as intermittent claudication. Don’t assume that because the pain eases periodically, it’s not serious. It could still be an indication that there is a blockage of blood flow.
Common symptoms of PAD include:
- Pain, aches, and cramps in the legs
- Pain when resting your legs and feet
- Difficulty with walking
- Non-healing sores on the legs and feet
- Hair loss on the legs
- Weak pulse in the legs and feet
- Thin, brittle, or shiny skin
- Severely restricted mobility
If you have these symptoms, don’t wait to schedule an appointment with a doctor. Left untreated, these symptoms can progress to critical limb ischemia (CLI). Eventually you could develop gangrene, need an amputation, or even have a fatal heart attack, stroke, or aneurysm.
Chronic Venous Insufficiency
Chronic Venous Insufficiency (CVI) can be another culprit. It occurs when the blood in your legs is having trouble flowing back to your heart properly, because the valves are weakened.
In people with CVI, the blood tends to pool in certain areas of the body – especially the legs. This puts pressure on the veins. And this, in turn, creates discoloration, fatigue, swelling, and discomfort in the legs and feet.
CVI has many of the same symptoms as PAD, like pain, difficulty walking, and feelings of heaviness in the legs. But CVI is especially common in women who have had multiple pregnancies and people middle-aged or older.
CVI is thought to affect up to 40% of the U.S. population, but many of those people have no idea they have it. They either have no symptoms yet, or ignore the symptoms.