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Symptoms of Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)

Peripheral Artery Disease, or PAD, is disease of the blood vessels outside the heart. You will experience different symptoms based on where the artery problems are.

Signs of PAD in the Legs
Signs of PAD in the Arms
Signs of Carotid (Neck) Artery Disease
Signs of Kidney (Renal) Artery Disease
Signs of Aortic Disease

Signs of PAD in the Legs

Because PAD in the legs develops gradually over time, women in the early stages of the disease may not have any symptoms at all. As the disease progresses, most patients will experience one or more of these common symptoms:

At first, leg pain during exercise may only be present when you walk uphill or long distances, but the pain may gradually become apparent with less and less exertion. Some women may not notice they have symptoms because they slow their walking speed or avoid walking (consciously or unconsciously) to avoid leg pain.

While claudication is considered the "classic" sign of PAD, most women and men with PAD do not have typical leg symptoms during exercise. About half of women with PAD have leg symptoms other than claudication. Many women do not experience leg pain at all, and the only way to tell that they have PAD is during a doctor’s examination.

Although many women do not think of leg pain or tiredness as a serious problem, pain in your legs is not a normal sign of aging. Proven treatments are available to relieve PAD symptoms and prevent complications, so be sure to discuss with your doctor any symptoms you experience.

Signs of PAD in the Arms

Although PAD is most common in the legs, the arteries in the arms can also become blocked or narrowed by the buildup of fatty deposits on the lining of the arteries ( atherosclerosis). Like other forms of PAD, arm artery disease tends to develop gradually and you may not notice any symptoms at first.

The most common symptom of arm artery disease is intermittent claudication: pain in your arm that happens when you are using your arm and goes away when you rest. This pain may be felt as aching, tightness, heaviness, cramping, or weakness.

If you measure your own blood pressure at home, differences of 12 to 15 points or more between your two arms may be a sign that the arteries in one arm are blocked or narrowed. Other symptoms include finger pain, fingers that turn blue or pale, sensitivity to cold in your hands, or a lack of pulse in your wrist or hand. As the disease progresses, you may notice sores or skin that is pale or cool to the touch on your arm or hand.

If you experience the symptoms of arm artery disease, make an appointment with your doctor right away. The earlier you are treated the better chance you have of getting the disease under control before you experience serious complications, including heart attack and stroke.

Signs of Carotid Artery Disease

Carotid Artery Disease affects blood flow through the carotid arteries, the two large vessels (one on each side of your neck) that supply blood to the brain. Because it often causes no symptoms in the early stages, it is important to see your doctor for regular physical examinations. She or he can use a stethoscope to detect some blood flow problems in the neck before they cause serious complications. (See How is carotid artery disease diagnosed?)

Unfortunately, the first symptom of carotid artery disease is often a stroke or TIA (" mini-stroke") caused by blocked blood flow to the brain. If you have any of these symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately:

Stroke symptoms that go away quickly after a short time may be caused by a TIA, a warning sign that a full stroke may happen soon. One in 10 people who have a TIA will have a stroke within 90 days. If you experience any of the above symptoms, even if they go away after a short time, you need to seek treatment to prevent a full stroke.

See also:

Signs of Stroke
How to Survive a Stroke

Signs of Kidney (Renal) Artery Disease

Renal artery disease is PAD in the arteries that supply blood to the kidneys. In the early stages it usually does not cause symptoms, and is often discovered in patients who are undergoing evaluation for other problems such as coronary artery disease or high blood pressure, or on routine blood tests (see How is Kidney Disease Diagnosed?)

The kidneys control blood pressure, so high blood pressure is often the first sign of renal artery disease. Signs that your high blood pressure may be related to kidney problems:

Other symptoms that may be related to kidney artery disease include:

Signs of Aortic Disease

The aorta is the largest artery in the body. It carries oxygen-rich blood from the heart’s main pumping chamber (the left ventricle) and distributes it to the arteries that branch off the aorta and carry blood to the rest of the body.

Aortic aneurysms, the most common form of aortic artery disease, usually do not cause symptoms in the early stages. However, as they grow bigger they may cause symptoms when they put pressure on nearby organs.

Symptoms of thoracic (chest) aortic aneurysm:

Symptoms of abdominal (belly) aortic aneurysm:

If an aortic aneurysm grows large enough, it may break open (rupture), causing severe internal bleeding that is deadly if not treated immediately. If you have any of these signs of a ruptured aortic aneurysm, call 9-1-1 immediately:

Learn More:

Am I At Risk For PAD?
Preventing PAD: The Basics

References

  1. Lloyd-Jones D, Adams R, Carnethon M, et al. Heart disease and stroke statistics--2009 update: a report from the American Heart Association Statistics Committee and Stroke Statistics Subcommittee. Circulation. Jan 27 2009;119(3):e21-181.

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