Peripheral Artery Disease and Feet

When people suffer from bad circulation, their feet could be in peril. The lower legs are the parts of the body most adversely impacted by peripheral artery disease (PAD), but lack of blood flow means every problem affecting the feet takes longer to heal. It is particularly dangerous in combination with diabetes, which can prevent nervous signals from traveling through the legs.

What are the Signs of PAD?

PAD is usually caused by atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque in the arteries. (There are other possible causes, including blood vessel inflammation or pressure from deformities in the nearby ligaments and muscles, but atherosclerosis is the most common.) When the lower limbs are affected, people typically experience pain in their calves while walking and sometimes while lying down, as well as numbness or weakness. They may also feel cold in their feet. Often, only one leg is affected.

How are Feet Impacted?

The lack of blood flow to the feet prevents them from receiving as many nutrients and limits the immune system’s ability to fight infections there. Consequently, people with PAD have higher rates of gangrene and the feet are generally more delicate. People with neuropathy may not be able to feel if their feet are injured, and if they do not inspect their feet regularly, it is possible for an infection to reach an advanced state before it is detected. With both PAD and neuropathy, even minor problems such as chafed skin can get out of control.

How is it Diagnosed?

Testing for PAD is recommended for people over seventy and for people over fifty with a history of smoking, diabetes, or high blood pressure. Doctors will check for pulses in the patient’s feet and sometimes use a stethoscope to listen for abnormal noises in the leg arteries. They will also use pressure cuffs on a patient’s arm and leg and an ultrasound machine to compare blood pressures in different limbs. This is sometimes administered to a patient while on a treadmill.


If a person has PAD, they may be put on medications that will lower their cholesterol and their blood pressure. Some people may be put on blood thinners. Doctors also commonly recommend work-out routines to people with PAD in order to increase the distance they can walk without pain. It is highly recommended that patients quit smoking, as this is one of the biggest contributors to PAD. People should also regularly check their feet and care for them by washing and moisturizing (but not between the toes). People with deformities such as bunions that could cause chafing should also seek help from a podiatrist.

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