PAD and Amputation

Let’s talk about Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) and amputation.

WHOA WHOA WHOA! I don’t even know what Peripheral Artery Disease is and you want to talk about removing toes?!?!?

Relax. No one is removing anything. That is actually why I want to discuss it, so we can all be informed and hopefully prevent things from getting to the point of amputation.

Peripheral Artery Disease is a narrowing of the arteries, outside of the heart, that results in reduced blood flow to an area. Most commonly this occurs in the legs.

Some symptoms of PAD include:

  • Leg pain during activity, like walking, that goes away when you rest
  • Painful cramping in the legs
  • Leg weakness
  • Numbness or tingling in the legs or feet, or pins and needles like sensation
  • Sores or wounds on the feet, legs, or toes that do not heal.
  • Coldness or color change of the leg or foot.
  • Slow growing toenails
  • Weak pulses in the leg or foot OR no pulse in the leg or foot

Okay, so now that you know the symptoms you may be wondering what causes it. Many things can contribute to this narrowing. Some causes may be smoking, Diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or family history. Other causes of PAD can be injury to the limb that might have damaged the vessels, or exposure to radiation, such as with some cancer treatment.

Okay so now I know what PAD is and what causes it, but I’m freaking out because maybe I have some of those symptoms, sometimes, and I have Diabetes and high blood pressure and I don’t want to lose my toes. What do I do? Help me!!!

Alright. Relax. Take a breath. I’m getting to that part.

First thing is first, if you feel you are experiencing symptoms of PAD you should follow-up with your primary care doctor. If they have concerns for PAD they can help you get the appropriate testing and treatments.

If you have been diagnosed with PAD, I’m going to give you some information that can potentially help you avoid amputation.

  • Examine your feet and legs daily. You want to look for wounds or sores or changes in skin color or temperature.
  • Visit your primary care doctor for yearly visits. If you have already been diagnosed with PAD and see a vascular specialist, make sure to keep appointments for follow-ups, checkups and vascular ultrasounds.
  • Quit smoking! Smoking has major negative effects on your vascular system.
  • Keep your diabetes and blood glucose under control.
  • Control high blood pressure with diet and exercise, or with medications as recommended by your doctor.
  • Control high cholesterol with medications as recommended by your doctor.
  • Practice good foot care (keep your feet dry, examine them frequently, get properly fitted for shoes, keep them clean, and trim your nails) and make regular visits to a podiatrist.
  • And last but not least, exercise for at least 30 minutes a day. (Listen, I’m not saying to run a marathon, but anything you can do to keep moving and get blood flowing to those legs will help.)

So, does being diagnosed with Peripheral Artery Disease mean I’m going to need an amputation?

Absolutely not!!!! Amputation should always be a last resort after other treatments have been tried.

Okay, now time for some real talk. Being diagnosed with PAD is not always going to be easy, as with many diseases. You must work with your doctors. You have to put in the effort as well if you want to avoid things like amputations. This means you will have to have follow-up visits, you will have to have vascular ultrasounds done, you may need to have procedures done to open blocked arteries and you will probably need to take daily medications as well. I know that doesn’t seem fun or really fair, but it is so important to your health that you put in the effort to work with your doctors to save those toes.