Blood flow is an extremely important process for your entire body. It begins in the heart muscle, where the pumping action of this vital organ starts the process off. Blood is distributed from your heart throughout your whole body via a series of arteries and veins. Your blood contains nutrients and oxygen which the various parts of your body need to function regularly. These substances are delivered by your blood, which then returns to the heart to pick up fresh oxygen and nutrients to deliver. This constant process goes on every second of every day that you are alive.
How the Blood Flows
In order for your extremities—your arms, legs head, etc.—to receive the blood that they need, your arteries need to be clear. Clear arteries allow blood to flow through them freely to and from its destinations within your body. Your blood itself has substances that flow in it—similar to fallen tree limbs in a river. You might have seen broken tree limbs collected along the sides of a river before. If you have, you noticed that these limbs are stuck in place and the blockage has an effect on how briskly the river flows.
The same thing can happen in your arteries, but instead of tree limbs your blood carries substances such as fat, cholesterol, calcium, and more. Sometimes portions of the cholesterol in your blood collect along the walls of your arteries. This is usually LDL (“bad” cholesterol), which is both produced in your liver and taken in when you eat foods rich in saturated fat.
As LDL cholesterol and other substances in your blood stick to the sides of your arteries and harden, they make the passages in your arteries smaller. Smaller arteries mean that blood flows through at a much slower rate. This means that your organs and extremities do not get the blood that they need or that they do not get enough blood. This is a medical condition known as atherosclerosis, and when it occurs in your peripheral arteries—most often the arteries in your legs but also in other extremities—you can be diagnosed with peripheral arterial disease or PAD. PAD is a disorder within itself, but it can also be a warning sign of atherosclerosis. Ultimately it can lead to severe medical issues, including heart attack and stroke.
Symptoms of PAD
- Cramping in the legs or buttocks
- Pain, aching or numbness in the legs or buttocks while walking/moving
- Slow healing wounds on legs or feet
- Slow growth of toenails and hair on the legs/feet
- Pale color of skin on legs or feet
There is Hope
Medical treatments for PAD vary on a patient-by-patient basis. Your doctor will evaluate you as an individual and then recommend the best treatment for you. They might talk to you about:
- Lifestyle changes: These may include quitting smoking, making better dietary choices, and exercising more.
- Medication: There are prescription drugs which can regulate cholesterol and improve circulation.
- Angioplasty: This process threads a small tube called a catheter through your arteries along a wire. Once the catheter reaches the blockage, it can compress it against the walls of the arteries with an inflatable balloon and even implant a stent, which is a small device that keeps your arteries open.
Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point has the diagnostic equipment, knowledgeable staff and technology to help people suffering from peripheral arterial disease. For more information on PAD, take a moment to meet Dr. Nader Chadda and gain some knowledge from one of our medical professionals. If you would like a free physician referral, please call 1-888-741-5119.