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Is It Arthritis or Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)?

arthritis leg pain

Many people with leg pain assume it is just a part of getting older and getting arthritis. However, it is imperative to know that peripheral artery disease (PAD) can be confused with arthritis. Since PAD can have serious consequences, you should seek medical attention if you are experiencing what you think is arthritis leg pain. A medical professional can help diagnose the root cause of your pain. At USA Vascular Centers, our trusted vascular doctors are skilled in diagnosing and treating PAD. If you are concerned that you may have PAD, consider scheduling an appointment to diagnose the cause of the pain quickly and begin treatment to maintain healthy functioning veins.


What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is a common condition that affects the joints, causing swelling and pain in one or more joints in the body. The two most prevalent forms are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis happens when the cartilage protecting two bones from rubbing together at a joint starts to wear out. 

While osteoarthritis can develop anywhere in the body, most patients who suffer from it experience arthritis in the hips, knees, spine, and hands. Symptoms of osteoarthritis include pain, stiffness, and tenderness in or around the affected joint. These signs of arthritis tend to develop slowly, worsening over time. Typically, osteoarthritis begins in one joint and may affect additional joints in the body as time goes on.

Rheumatoid arthritis can affect multiple joints in the body at once. Unlike osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder. It occurs when the immune system attacks the synovial membranes in the joints. 

Many people who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis notice that the same joint on both sides of the body are affected at once. This means that if you have rheumatoid arthritis in the legs, for example, both of your knees might feel swollen, hot, and painful at once. In addition to pain and swelling, you may notice a loss of appetite, along with fever and fatigue. 

With any type of arthritis, if you experience pain and swelling primarily in the legs and arms rather than the hips or shoulders, it’s known as peripheral arthritis.1 Arthritis is more common in women than men, and the development of the condition may be influenced by other risk factors such as age, genetics, obesity, and previous joint injuries. 

What is Peripheral Artery Disease?

Peripheral artery disease is a condition that occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries leading to the legs, restricting blood flow. In its early stages, PAD may not have any recognizable symptoms. As the disease progresses, however, those with PAD may start to notice that their legs hurt during simple exercises, such as walking or climbing stairs. This classic PAD symptom is called intermittent claudication.

PAD can also cause symptoms such as slowed toenail growth, loss of hair on the legs, and change of skin temperature in the feet, legs, or ankles. PAD risk factors include smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, genetics, and advanced age. 

Peripheral Artery Disease Leg Pain vs. Arthritis Leg Pain

If you’re experiencing leg pain, you may feel concerned that it could be peripheral arthritis or PAD. How can you distinguish between arthritis leg pain and PAD leg pain? To begin with, PAD causes aching, heaviness, and cramping in the legs while walking or climbing stairs, while arthritis typically affects joints like hips, knees, and ankles. PAD starts slowly, and the pain may go away after rest, but arthritis lingers. If you raise your legs as you lie in bed and the pain worsens, you may have PAD.

Other symptoms specific to PAD include skin that turns pale or bluish when you elevate the legs or skin on the foot that turns a dusky red when you stand or sit. You may also notice slowed toenail growth with PAD, along with hair loss on the legs. Because of the restricted flow of oxygenated blood to the feet, legs, and ankles, wounds may take a long time to heal. Or, they may not heal at all. If you have any of these signs of PAD, seek out a consultation with our highly recommended vascular doctors at USA Vascular Centers. With years of training and expertise, they will be able to tell you whether you have PAD or something else, such as arthritis leg pain. In some cases, patients may be dealing with both arthritis and PAD. They will require treatment for both conditions.2 

Leg Pain Diagnosis

Most doctors diagnose arthritis by conducting a physical exam and ordering blood or joint fluid tests. Further imaging tests, including X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and computerized tomography (CT) scans, can confirm an arthritis diagnosis. Arthritis treatment typically consists of pain medication, steroids, therapy, and surgery to repair damaged joints. 

For leg pain that PAD causes you or your doctor suspect, there are two tests that our vascular doctors can conduct to diagnose PAD. An ankle-brachial index (ABI) test is a good starting point. In it, your doctor measures the blood pressure in your ankle and in your arm. The two numbers are then compared, giving your doctor insight into the functioning of your vascular system. 

An angiogram is a minimally invasive procedure that uses contrast dye and X-ray imaging to determine the location of any narrowed or blocked arteries. Once you have a diagnosis, one of our vascular doctors can perform one of three minimally invasive treatments to open the narrowed arteries: angioplasty, stent placement, or atherectomy. These procedures can help improve PAD symptoms and reduce the risk of serious complications, including heart attack and stroke. 

Schedule a Consultation at USA Vascular Centers

If you are suffering from painful  symptoms in your legs and want to determine if it is caused by arthritis or PAD, call USA Vascular Centers at 844.723.7240 to schedule a consultation with one of our vascular doctors. They can expertly diagnose and treat PAD at one of our state-of-the-art outpatient centers. If you live out of town, we offer lodging options so you can focus on getting the treatment you need. Treatments at USA Vascular Centers are covered by Medicare, most insurance plans, and Medicaid.


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