A blocked artery in the leg can cause a range of symptoms, from leg cramps and numbness to ulcers and leg hair loss. Arteries are blood vessels that carry blood from your heart to your legs, arms, and other parts of your body. The arteries that carry blood to your legs and feet are called peripheral arteries. Healthy peripheral arteries will carry blood to your lower limbs freely. However, if you have a blocked artery in the leg, plaque has built up in your arteries and is restricting blood flow. Early signs of a blocked artery may include discoloration of the skin in the affected area, cold feet and legs, lower back pain and fatigue, dizziness or shortness of breath.
All these symptoms might indicate the development of the condition known as peripheral artery disease (PAD). Since blood carries oxygen and nutrients to your legs and feet, any restriction can cause the tissues in your lower limbs to receive less of these essential nutrients than they need in order to function, resulting in the symptoms of a blocked artery in the leg.
At USA Vascular Centers, our board-certified vascular doctors are renowned for their expertise in diagnosing and treating PAD. If you’re concerned that you may have symptoms of blocked or clogged arteries in the legs, we encourage you to talk to one of our caring physicians. We offer leading PAD diagnosis tests and treatments to help reduce PAD symptoms so you can get back to doing what you love.
What Causes Blocked Arteries in the Legs?
Plaque is the most common cause of clogged arteries in the legs. Arteries are muscular vessels that expand and contract to accommodate different blood pressures. In healthy arteries, the artery walls are smooth and elastic.
However, over time, a person’s genetics and lifestyle choices can damage the artery walls, causing excess cholesterol, fat, calcium, fibrin, and cellular waste—the building blocks of plaque—to accumulate in the blood.
The combination of damage to the artery walls as a result of high blood pressure and increased plaque flowing through the arteries causes blocked arteries in the legs. An increase in plaque buildup makes the arteries stiffer, causing poor circulation, which then puts the arteries at an even higher risk of accumulating plaque. It’s a vicious cycle, but understanding the risk factors and doing everything you can to manage your overall health goes a long way toward keeping your arteries healthy.
Risk Factors of Clogged Arteries Include:
- Eating a diet high in cholesterol, processed food, and saturated and trans fats
- Lack of exercise or leading a sedentary lifestyle
- High blood pressure
- High blood sugar level
- Cigarette smoking
- Genetics/Family history
Common Symptoms of Clogged Arteries in the Legs
Cramping leg pain is one of the most common symptoms of peripheral artery disease resulting from blocked or clogged arteries in the legs. In medical terms, this symptom is called intermittent claudication. Many patients feel the effects of intermittent claudication in the calf, leading to pain in the legs while walking. The pain can also occur while climbing stairs, jogging, or running, and goes away with rest. Other symptoms of clogged arteries in the legs include numbness, tingling, wounds not healing, hair loss on the legs or feet, discolored skin, and slowed toenail growth.
If the blockage is severe, you might experience claudication pain even when at rest. This is a symptom of significant plaque buildup in the arteries, typically indicating an advanced stage of PAD. In both the Fontaine and Rutherford classifications of PAD (both of which are used by the medical community to help diagnose the severity of a patient’s condition), leg pain while resting occurs right before the final stages of PAD.
The final stages are the most serious, involving non-healing ulcers, gangrene, and limb death, which may lead to amputation. Thankfully, there are many steps you can take to prevent your PAD from progressing this far.
So, What Does a Blocked Artery in the Leg Feel Like?
A blocked artery in the leg can feel like your leg is too heavy or tired to perform its normal functions. Your leg might hurt so much that you develop a limp. Sometimes, patients experience both leg pain and fatigue as part of intermittent claudication. You might also notice that minor cuts and wounds take an abnormally long time to heal. They might not even heal at all, instead developing into sores that make it painful to wear socks and shoes. Some people notice that their leg or foot feels numb or cold to the touch.
Each of these blocked artery in the leg symptoms results from the same root cause: insufficient circulation to your legs and feet. Because of the plaque that has accumulated in your peripheral arteries, your limbs aren’t receiving enough nutrients and oxygen from your blood.
How Serious Is a Blocked Artery in the Leg?
A blocked artery in the leg can cause serious complications, including the death of tissue in your legs or feet. This happens when the circulation of blood is completely (or almost completely) cut off. As soon as the skin, bones, muscles, and other tissues stop receiving any oxygen or nutrients, they begin to die. As gangrene sets in, the skin will turn a blackish-green color. Without immediate treatment, bacteria from the dead tissue can spread throughout the body, creating a life-threatening situation. Patients with gangrene often need amputation to minimize this risk.
Keep in mind, if you have clogged arteries in the legs, you may have clogged arteries in other parts of your body as well. That’s why PAD is linked to an elevated risk of heart attack and stroke. Diagnosing and treating PAD with lifestyle modifications and medications may help lower your risk of heart attack and stroke, as well.
Diagnosing PAD and Blocked Arteries in the Legs
So, how can you tell if your arteries are blocked or clogged? The simplest test for diagnosing clogged arteries as a result of PAD is to check the pulse in the feet. There should be two pulses, both easily detectable by a trained physician. If a pulse is not detected in one or both feet, an ankle-brachial index (ABI) test is the next step for PAD screening. For an ABI test, your doctor will observe and compare the blood pressure of your arm and leg.
If needed, imaging techniques such as an angiogram, MRI, or ultrasound may be conducted. At USA Vascular Centers, our highly qualified doctors diagnose PAD with either an ankle-brachial index test or an angiogram, which involves injecting contrast dye into the blood vessels and using X-ray imaging to locate any blocked areas.
Once your provider understands the extent and location of the blocked artery in your leg, they can put together a treatment plan to address it.
What Is the Treatment for Blocked Arteries in the Legs?
Treating blocked arteries in the legs can involve lifestyle changes, medications, or minimally invasive procedures to widen them. You may find that your provider suggests a combination of all three.
Lifestyle changes like starting an exercise routine and eating a nutritious diet can help slow down the accumulation of plaque in your arteries. If you’ve received medication or minimally invasive treatment to address a blocked or clogged artery in the leg, these measures can help keep your arteries from clogging again. For example, if you quit smoking and start walking every day after receiving treatment for a clogged artery in the leg, your risk of developing additional blockages can be reduced significantly.
At USA Vascular Centers, our highly skilled doctors perform three minimally invasive PAD treatments based on your individual condition:
- Angioplasty: This minimally invasive procedure treats a blocked artery in the legs by using a balloon-tipped catheter to open up narrowed or blocked arteries. This helps promote better blood circulation. Peripheral angioplasty is used to treat plaque buildup (atherosclerosis) in the arteries that carry blood to the lower extremities.
- Stent placement: In this minimally invasive procedure, an angioplasty is performed to open the arteries before a mesh stent is placed inside the artery wall. Stent placement helps treat blocked arteries in the legs by preventing the artery from narrowing again in the same place.
- Atherectomy: This procedure reopens a blocked artery in the legs using a catheter tipped with a laser or tiny blade to cut plaque into pieces. To keep the pieces of plaque from traveling through the bloodstream, they are collected in a special chamber on the catheter and removed from the body.
We perform these non-surgical treatments in an outpatient setting. They require no stitches, allowing you to recover in the comfort of your home. Receiving treatment to help clear blocked arteries in the legs can go a long way toward improving your health.
Schedule a Consultation with USA Vascular Doctors
Are you experiencing symptoms of a blocked artery in the leg? At USA Vascular Centers, we offer in-person health consultations at our locations nationwide. Our skilled doctors can evaluate your symptoms and determine if they are indeed caused by clogged arteries in the legs.
One of our vascular specialists can evaluate your PAD symptoms via video chat from your phone or through our specialized video calling app that runs on all mobiles, laptops, tablets, and desktops. We accept a broad array of insurance providers along with Medicaid and Medicare. Our financial specialists are here to help in choosing a treatment plan that is cost effective for you.
Blocked or clogged arteries in the legs due to PAD can cause a host of uncomfortable symptoms and dangerous complications.
Discuss your artery treatment options from the comfort of your own home or in one of our state-of-the-art outpatient centers. We look forward to relieving your symptoms and helping you live your most rewarding life.
If you notice any symptoms of blocked arteries in your legs, schedule a consultation online or call us at 888.773.2193 today.