At first, it seems like you may have just overdone: stood too long, worked too hard, sat incorrectly, worn those shoes you should have never purchased. Surely the pain is just episodic, it only happens “when…,” soon forgotten… until it happens again. Workdays tend to feel longer; sleep tends to be disrupted; one pair of shoes is your “go-to.” The expression “grin and bear it” takes on a whole new meaning. While many of us tend to think it’s just “too many birthdays” because you can’t remember an injury or reason, your symptoms may be caused by vascular insufficiency or PAD (peripheral artery disease).
PAD is a build-up of fatty material inside the arteries that limits the amount of blood that passes through them. Blood brings oxygen and nutrients to your feet and toes, which they need to stay healthy. This build-up occurs gradually over time and hardens into plaque inside the artery and is a condition known as atherosclerosis. Sometimes, it’s called hardening of the arteries. No matter what you call it, this plaque causes a narrowing of the passageway, restricting the amount of blood that flows throughout the body. When this happens in the lower extremities, the nerves and muscles in the feet are affected and become painful resulting, in burning, tingling, numbness or cramping.
PAD is often called the silent killer because a lot of people don’t know they have it, and it’s a highly lethal condition if left untreated. Those with it are at a much higher risk of other circulation or cardiac issues and generally have a much higher rate of amputations and death from heart attack or stroke. But there are telltale signs related to poor blood flow to your legs and feet. You’ll have pain, cramping or wounds that won’t heal. If you ignore these signs, it may lead to an amputation. And, if you get an amputation because you have PAD, your life expectancy is worse than if you had breast cancer or lymphoma. Simply put, PAD is no joke.
But, there is good news. Early diagnosis and treatment make a big difference. One of the most important outcomes of diagnosing PAD at the first signs is the ability to manage the disease and potentially reduce or prevent complications from occurring. Often, issues with the feet are the first sign of this underlying problem. So, if your feet burn, tingle or feel numb, it’s your body telling you it needs help, and you should listen.
In some cases, people have been diagnosed with, or think they have, neuropathy. This happens because the symptoms of PAD are very similar to the symptoms of neuropathy and include burning, tingling, numbness and/or pain. Medication is often prescribed, with mixed results. When a patient has been taking medication and is not finding relief, it’s time to start asking questions. It may be some other condition causing the pain and one of the big, notorious offenders in this scenario is PAD.
Without an adequate blood supply, your body can’t get the oxygen and nutrients it needs to maintain healthy legs, feet and toes. This is something that can be fixed. There is hope for people living with PAD. There’s treatment and the treatment is excellent, it’s been one of the biggest success stories in all of medicine. Patients are able to get back on their feet and to their lives with almost no downtime, no stitches and no overnight hospital stay. The method of diagnosis and the treatment were unheard of 20 years ago. It’s become so sophisticated and so easy for patients, there’s no reason for anyone to not seek answers for this condition.
The most important thing to know is that there are options. I encourage everyone whose everyday life is impacted by painful legs or feet to ask questions. You might have to ask a different doctor, but you don’t have to live with the idea that you’re going to suffer for the rest of your life with PAD. My best advice is to go look for answers. FBN
By Joel Rainwater, M.D.
Joel Rainwater, M.D. is a board-certified endovascular specialist with more than 23 years of experience. His is the Chief Medical Officer of Comprehensive Integrated Care (CiC). Dr. Rainwater has focused his medical career on educating the public and his fellow physicians to recognize PAD and start treatment as quickly as possible. He sees patients in CiC’s Flagstaff location and can be reached at 928-719-7400.