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What Your Feet Could Be Telling You About Your Arteries

August 26, 2019

Clues to our health can come from unexpected places. Your feet, for example, could be telling you about an issue with your arteries, the blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood from your heart to other parts of the body.

Several signs – such as cold feet or one foot that feels colder than the other – may indicate that you have peripheral arterial disease (PAD). This disease occurs when fat, cholesterol and other substances that make up plaque, build up in the linings of the arteries of the legs and feet. Known as clogged arteries or atherosclerosis, this build-up slows circulation to areas that are far away from the heart – like feet. Often when people have clogged arteries of the heart or carotids, the first indication is PAD of the legs.

A lack of blood in the lower extremities causes cold feet as well as other signs that indicate you may have PAD, including:

  • Toes or feet that look pale, discolored or bluish
  • Foot or leg pain that disturbs your sleep
  • Sores or wounds on your toes, feet or legs that heal slowly or not at all
  • Thick, yellow toenails that aren’t growing
  • Tiredness, heaviness or cramping in the leg muscles

What Factors Increase the Likelihood of Developing PAD?

Having cold feet doesn’t automatically mean you have PAD, but if you have other symptoms or increased risk factors, you should see your doctor. Smoking and having diabetes can significantly increase the risk of PAD.

Because peripheral arterial disease worsens with age, being over 50 increases your risk, but people who have diabetes and who also smoke are more likely to develop PAD even in their 40s. Other risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol and chronic kidney disease.Womans feet on beach

Recognizing and Treating PAD

Symptoms of PAD can be misleading. You may mistake pain from PAD as pain from arthritis or sciatica. If you have diabetes, you may mistake PAD pain as neuropathy. You may not even have symptoms and still have PAD.

Ultrasounds, CT scans, angiograms and MRIs are used to diagnose PAD. The earlier the detection, the better it is to manage the disease.

The biggest concern of untreated PAD, particularly in the legs, is non-healing wounds and amputation from tissue death resulting from lack of blood flow. Having PAD also increases your risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Treating PAD depends on many factors including symptoms, health status and the severity of the clogging. The goal or treatment is to reduce pain, improve walking ability, reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, and save limbs from amputation. A treatment plan may include physical activity, diet, medication and minor surgical procedures to improve blood flow in the arteries. Controlling diabetes and quitting smoking are critical in managing PAD.

Can PAD Be Prevented?

As with many diseases, some risk factors can be diminished, lessening the likelihood of developing PADs. Maintaining healthy eating habits, getting regular exercise, and managing cholesterol and blood pressure are vital ways to lower your risks. If you smoke; quit. If you have diabetes, work with your medical team to manage it properly.

The term “cold feet” is often used to express someone’s reluctance to take action. But if you literally have cold feet, don’t hesitate to talk with your doctor to find out the cause.

Orlando Health PVD/PAD Health Guide

We know that managing your heart health can be a daunting task. That’s why we’ve created a guide for PVD/PAD patients to serve as a resource.

Learn More