Newman Medical News

PAD and Stroke: Your Leg Pain Could Be a Warning Sign

Stroke Awareness Month



















Heart disease and stroke are major public health concerns. However, Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) is another insidious vascular condition that often goes unnoticed. It silently increases the risk of these devastating events. PAD is not just a circulation problem. It’s a widespread vascular disease with serious consequences for your overall health, including your risk of stroke.

Unmasking PAD: What It Is and Why It Matters

PAD is a common circulatory condition. It’s characterized by the narrowing of arteries, primarily in the legs. This is due to plaque buildup within the arterial walls. Plaque is a sticky mixture of cholesterol, fat, and other substances. As it accumulates, it obstructs blood flow, and deprives the legs of oxygen and nutrients. This reduced blood flow can manifest in a variety of symptoms.

Symptoms of PAD

  • Intermittent Claudication: This is a hallmark symptom of PAD. It’s characterized by cramping, aching, or fatigue in the leg muscles during physical activity, such as walking or climbing stairs. The pain usually goes away with rest.
  • Rest Pain: In advanced stages of PAD, pain may persist even at rest. This is especially true when lying down. This severe symptom often indicates critical limb ischemia. This is a condition where blood flow is so severely restricted that it threatens the viability of the limb.
  • Numbness or Tingling: Reduced blood flow can cause a loss of sensation or tingling in the legs and feet.
  • Slow-Healing Sores: Even minor cuts or injuries can struggle to heal due to impaired circulation. This can lead to chronic ulcers or infections.
  • Coldness: The feet or lower legs may feel noticeably colder than the rest of the body due to reduced blood flow.
  • Changes in Skin Color: The legs may appear pale, bluish, or even shiny due to impaired circulation.

The Hidden Link Between PAD and Stroke

The symptoms of PAD may seem localized to the legs. However, the underlying cause – atherosclerosis – is a systemic disease, and it affects the entire vascular system. If plaque is accumulating in the leg arteries, it’s likely building up in other vital vessels too. This includes the carotid arteries that supply blood to the brain. When these crucial arteries narrow or become blocked, the risk of ischemic stroke increases dramatically. Ischemic stroke is the most common type of stroke, caused by a blood clot.

How PAD Increases Stroke Risk

Several mechanisms contribute to the elevated stroke risk in individuals with PAD:

  • Shared Risk Factors: PAD and stroke share common risk factors. These include smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and obesity. These conditions accelerate atherosclerosis throughout the body. This makes individuals with PAD more susceptible to cerebrovascular events.
  • Endothelial Dysfunction: PAD damages the endothelium. This is the inner lining of blood vessels. It leads to inflammation and dysfunction. This dysfunction promotes blood clots and also impairs the ability of blood vessels to dilate and constrict properly. This further increases the risk of stroke.
  • Embolic Potential: Plaque buildup in the leg arteries can trigger blood clots. If a clot breaks loose, it can travel and lodge in a brain artery, causing a stroke. This is called an embolism and highlights the direct link between PAD and stroke.
  • Systemic Inflammation: PAD is associated with chronic low-grade inflammation. This can contribute to the development and progression of atherosclerosis in the brain’s blood vessels.

The Importance of Early Detection and Intervention

The good news is that PAD is often treatable, especially when caught early. The ankle-brachial index (ABI) is a simple, non-invasive test that can identify PAD. It compares blood pressure in the ankle and arm. Once diagnosed, lifestyle modifications can significantly improve blood flow and reduce the risk of stroke. These include quitting smoking, adopting a healthy diet, and engaging in regular exercise. Medications to control blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood clotting may also be prescribed, and in severe cases, surgery may be necessary to restore blood flow.

Don’t Ignore the Warning Signs

If you experience any of the symptoms of PAD, don’t dismiss them as a normal part of aging. Seek medical attention promptly. Early diagnosis and intervention can not only improve your quality of life but also significantly reduce your risk of stroke and other cardiovascular events.

PAD is a Wake-Up Call

Peripheral artery disease is more than just leg pain. It’s also a wake-up call for your cardiovascular health and a warning sign that your arteries are in trouble. By taking proactive steps to manage your risk factors, you can protect your vascular system, reduce your risk of stroke, and enjoy a longer, healthier life. Remember, your legs may be trying to tell you something important about your overall health. Listen to their message, and take action to safeguard your well-being.

May 21, 2024 PAD