High cholesterol is the medical term for circulating fats that contribute to the hardening and narrowing of arteries. When nothing is done to prevent this, complications like acute limb ischemia and heart attacks can strike unexpectedly. One problem, however, is that symptoms are scarce in the beginning. In fact, the earliest signs tend to emerge after the artery in the legs is already blocked by more than 50 percent.
PAD is significantly more common in individuals aged 60 and above because blockages take decades to develop.
It is primarily characterised by claudication, a specific type of pain that most people first notice during exercise.
Tufts Medical Centre explains: “If the blockages exceed a critical threshold, the lack of blood flow can state to cause noticeable problems.
“The earliest symptoms of PAD are usually claudication or difficulty walking distances because of pain in the calves, thighs, or buttocks due to poor circulation.
“This problem can greatly diminish a person’s walking ability and quality of life.”
According to the health body, most people can tolerate up to a 50 percent blockage of a leg artery before symptoms arise.
Naturally, the symptoms and severity of PAD differ from person to person, but some key signs are commonly reported.
The typical signs of claudication include:
- Pain in the legs, feet and buttocks when walking
- Shiny hairless, blotchy skin on the foot that may develop into sores.
Often, the feet become sore and prone to ulceration due to a lack of blood flow to the tissue.
When blood flow decreases this means the blood travelling down the leg is not enough to supply nutrients to the feet.
This is when complications like tissue death require drastic measures such as amputation.
Temple Health explains: “Vascular disease and associated nerve damage can lead to non-healing wounds, infections, ischaemic (where tissue is starved of oxygen) and tissue death.
“Such conditions, both complex and urgent, require coordinated action by a team with a wide range of experience.”
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute adds that one foot may feel cooler than the other, and the foot may become pale, discoloured or blue.
Sometimes, although rare, PAD can cause symptoms in the arms, similar to the ones seen in the legs.
The hands may become noticeably cold and numb, and the fingers may turn blue or pale, explains WebMD.
The American College of Cardiology breaks down the presentation of PAD into four categories:
- Critical limb ischemia
- Acute limb ischemia.
The main difference between critical limb ischaemia (CLI) and acute limb ischemia (ALI) is the duration of their symptoms.
Medicine net defines CLI as a “severe blockage in the arteries that reduces blood flow to the hands, legs and feet”, causing them to turn pink.
ALI, on the other hand, is defined as a sudden decrease in blood flow to the limb, causing it to become pale, or marble white.