Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a vascular condition that occurs when the arteries become narrowed due to plaque buildup, also known as atherosclerosis. PAD can put you at risk of developing foot ulcers because of the restricted blood flow to the legs and feet. Foot ulcers are painful, open wounds in the feet that take a long time to heal. In some cases, they may not heal at all.
If you are concerned that you have PAD and are at risk of foot ulcers, the board-certified vascular doctors at USA Vascular Centers can help. Schedule a screening with one of our doctors today and start on the road toward better health. We also offer telemedicine consultations for your convenience.
What are Arterial Leg and Foot Ulcers?
Arterial leg and foot ulcers are painful wounds that occur when there isn’t enough oxygen-rich blood flowing to the peripheral extremities. This lack of blood flow causes the arteries and the tissue in the legs and feet to sustain damage.
Because of this damage, tissue death often occurs, resulting in open wounds composed of necrotic or dying flesh. Arterial leg and foot ulcers require immediate treatment to help reduce the risk of amputation. They are commonly found on the toes, ankles, feet, and heels, and the discomfort they cause can make it too painful to undertake normal activities.
Symptoms of Arterial Ulcers
If you suspect that you have peripheral artery disease ulcers, it’s helpful to know what signs you can identify. Arterial ulcers can be black, red, or yellow and often look like they have been “punched out” of your skin. The wound generally has a well-defined edge. Though the wound is typically deep, an arterial ulcer isn’t likely to bleed. In addition, the foot, ankle, or leg may feel cold to the touch due to a lack of blood circulation.
You will likely experience pain in the affected area and leg pain while lying down at night. The skin on your lower extremities may be tight and hairless.
Main Causes of Lower Extremity Ulcers
Arterial ulcers result from tissue death due to a lack of oxygen-rich blood. When the skin tissues die, they form an open wound that fails to heal. Poor circulation can also cause minor cuts to heal slowly or not heal at all, instead of turning into painful ulcers.
Untreated peripheral artery disease is a significant cause of lower extremity ulcers. Diabetes, smoking, kidney failure, vasculitis, obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol can also contribute to the development of these ulcers.
PAD vs PVD Ulcers
Peripheral vascular disease (PVD) is an umbrella term to describe any damage or blockage in the blood vessels not in the heart, including arteries, veins, and lymphatic vessels. Peripheral artery disease only involves the arteries leading to your limbs.
PVD ulcers might involve the veins instead of the arteries, leading to venous ulcers. Venous ulcers, unlike peripheral artery disease ulcers, are shallow. They tend to be less painful than PAD ulcers, and they usually develop on the lower legs. Unlike PAD ulcers, venous ulcers tend to have jagged edges. In addition, they often seep fluid, giving them a wet-looking appearance. While there is a difference between PAD vs PVD ulcers, both result from problems with blood flow to the legs and feet.
How to Prevent Foot Ulcers from PAD
To prevent the development of foot ulcers from peripheral artery disease, it’s important to avoid or quit smoking, eat a nutritious diet, exercise regularly, and take any prescribed medications to keep your blood pressure and cholesterol levels healthy. If you suspect that you may have PAD ulcers on your feet, it’s important to seek treatment right away.
The only way to treat peripheral artery disease ulcers is to make every effort to restore blood flow to the affected area. At USA Vascular Centers, our vascular doctors perform three types of minimally invasive procedures to help open up narrowed arteries: angioplasty, stent placement, or atherectomy.
During an angioplasty, your physician will insert a balloon-tipped catheter into your vascular system, usually by making a small incision in the groin area. With the assistance of contrast dye and x-ray imaging, the doctor will guide the catheter to the blockage in your arteries. The balloon will then be inflated, compressing the plaque and widening the arterial passageway.
A stent placement follows the same steps but with the addition of a mesh stent to prop open the artery. When you receive a stent, your doctor may prescribe medication to help prevent blood clots. It’s important to take this medication exactly as prescribed.
An atherectomy involves inserting a catheter with a small blade or laser that shaves the plaque into smaller pieces. Rather than allowing the plaque pieces to then move through the vascular system, the catheter collects all the plaque in a special chamber. This allows the physician to remove it from your body safely.
Each of these treatments requires you to stay in the outpatient center for approximately two hours from start to finish, and most patients are back to their normal activities within a week. PAD treatment can help prevent serious complications, such as critical limb ischemia, leading to amputation.
If you don’t have any ulcers yet but are worried you have PAD, prompt treatment can help prevent peripheral artery disease ulcers from forming. We encourage you to seek treatment right away if you are concerned about PAD or have PAD ulcers on your legs or feet.
Schedule a Consultation with USA Vascular Centers
If you or a loved one are dealing with poor blood flow and are worried about PAD ulcers, schedule a consultation with one of our board-certified vascular doctors online or call us at 888.773.2193 today.
Our state-of-the-art outpatient treatment centers are accredited by the AAAHC, which means we adhere to rigorous patient safety standards. Our accreditation also qualifies us for Medicare and Medicaid certification. Visit us at one of our conveniently located centers. We look forward to helping you avoid or treat PAD ulcers and get back to living your life to the fullest.
- “Arterial Leg Ulcers.” Center for Advanced Cardiac and Vascular Interventions, January 28, 2022. https://cacvi.org/conditions/vascular-conditions/arterial-leg-ulcers/.
- “Venous Ulcers.” Johns Hopkins Medicine. The Johns Hopkins University, The Johns Hopkins Hospital, and Johns Hopkins Health System, 2022. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/venous-ulcers.