The Stages of Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)

Categories of PAD

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a condition that impacts your legs and mobility. PAD occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries of the leg and restricts the natural flow of blood. Because the arteries have narrowed, the body experiences difficulty getting enough blood, oxygen, and other nutrients to the muscles.

There are four designated classifications, or stages, of PAD: 

  • Asymptomatic
  • Claudication
  •  Critical limb ischemia
  • Acute limb ischemia 

Each of these categories indicates a different set of characteristics in which the disease may affect patients.

Asymptomatic

It’s important to know that not everyone with PAD will experience symptoms in the early stages of PAD. In fact, between 20% to 50% of people with moderate peripheral artery disease are considered asymptomatic. People who have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, or smoke are at a higher risk. Those who do not experience any symptoms, may not be aware that they have the disease. Unfortunately even if you don’t feel any of the apparent signs,  the disease  may go on progressing unnoticed until symptoms occur. It’s important to consult your physician if you think you may be at risk of PAD. A doctor or a vascular specialist can run tests like an ankle-brachial index (ABI) or angiogram to determine if you have arterial plaque buildup. If diagnosed early, there are many proactive and preventative measures you can take to avoid severe plaque buildup. 

Claudication

Claudication is caused by limited blood flow to the lower extremities and often leads to pain in your thigh, calf, or buttocks. It most typically appears as cramping during physical exertion, such as climbing stairs or walking long distances. Although this pain may disappear during extended periods of rest, it typically flares back up when physical activity continues. Ongoing claudication can result in enough discomfort to develop a limp.

Critical Limb Ischemia

Left untreated, PAD can result in critical limb ischemia (CLI) which is a severe artery block in your lower extremities. Over time, critical limb ischemia can  damage your leg arteries. You can tell if your condition may have progressed to this stage if you experience:

  • Two or more weeks of having pain at rest
  • Non-healing wounds, ulcers, or gangrene in one or both legs

Unlike acute limb ischemia, critical limb ischemia is considered to be a chronic condition. Patients who are diagnosed with this stage of PAD are at a greater risk for stroke, heart attack, loss of a limb, or even vascular death. Though it is possible to have PAD without a CLI diagnosis, CLI is almost always caused by advanced stage PAD.

Acute Limb Ischemia

PAD is associated with a higher risk of heart disease and stroke, functional impairment, and overall decreased quality of life. Acute limb ischemia (ALI) is a heart attack equivalent to peripheral artery disease. 

When you have this advanced stage of PAD, a blood clot in your leg is abruptly broken and moves through the artery, completely blocking the blood flow. It causes a weak pulse and extreme pain in the leg. This type of rupture is a serious medical emergency and the person may require an emergency procedure. If symptoms go unchecked or are not treated quickly enough, acute limb ischemia can also result in limb amputation. 

Symptoms At Different Stages of Peripheral Artery Disease

In the early stages of PAD, you may not notice any signs. However, in the future, you may experience the most common symptoms of PAD, including leg pain when you’re being active or leg tingling.

As PAD worsens, you may notice that the pain also affects you when you’re sleeping. You may feel a dull ache or cramping, and your legs and feet might be cold to the touch. Additionally, your legs may feel restless or tingly due to the lack of sufficient blood flow reaching your extremities.

If left untreated, the condition will progress. Wounds will take longer to heal, and you may develop arterial ulcers on the legs or feet. Arterial ulcers are open sores that don’t heal and can be life-threatening if ignored. If you progress to the advanced stages of PAD, you could develop gangrene–dead tissue–and lose a limb.

Non-Surgical PAD Treatment

If you’ve been diagnosed with PAD, non-surgical treatment can help stop the progression and improve mobility. USA Vascular Centers offers minimally invasive options to help you regain mobility and reduce symptoms of PAD. 

Both angioplasty and stent placement procedures can help improve blood flow and provide the nutrients your leg muscles need for everyday activity. Your vascular specialist may also recommend lifestyle changes, such as a healthy diet or exercise as a part of your treatment to help prevent the progression of the disease. 

If you want to be proactive aboutPAD and avoid the later stages of this condition, seek treatment with USA Vascular Centers. Contact us at 888.773.2193 or schedule an appointment online. Don’t wait for your arterial plaque buildup to worsen, take the next step with us today.

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