Cholesterol harms the heart, we all know that. High levels of low-density lipoprotein in the bloodstream can clog arteries and increase the risk of heart attack and other types of cardiovascular ailments.
Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD)
But what you may not know is that cholesterol can also harm the legs. It can result in a condition called Peripheral Arterial Disease. About 12 million people in the United States are affected with this disease. PAD is also linked to higher risk of heart attack, stroke and heart disease. The good news is that this condition can be treated. You just have to know if you have one. Here are some signs that will tell you if you do:
The most common indication of PAD is leg pain or discomfort. More specifically known as claudication, this is caused by clogged arteries which cannot deliver enough blood to the legs for exertion. People with PAD will feel that their legs are heavy and tired. Burning sensation can also be experienced. This pain can be felt in any part of the leg. Sometimes, it affects both legs.
People with this condition usually get cramps or spasms in the heels, feet and toes while sleeping. Dangling the foot or sitting on a chair can provide relief for the cramps.
Changes In Skin and Nails
Since the legs aren't getting sufficient blood and nourishment, you'll notice changes in the color of the skin and nails. The skin on the legs become tight and shiny while the toenails grow slowly or thicken.
Unusual Color of the Leg Skin
Doctors would often check the color of your legs. If you raise your leg, it turns white because of lack of blood flow. If it is dangled from the table, it turns red or purple because of the dilated blood vessels that work to increase the flow of blood to the feet. It can also happen that the toes and feet are pale or bluish while a person is sitting. Again it's because of lack of blood circulation.
If you find yourself reaching for a pair of socks every night, it's possible that you have PAD. It's important to note that cold feet can happen to anyone even for someone without this condition. But if you notice that only one leg or foot is cold, it may be a sign of PAD and you should pay your doctor a visit.
Foot Ulcers That Don't Heal
With the reduction of blood flow in the legs, people with PAD will have foot ulcers known as ischemic ulcers that won't heal. This is particularly true for those with advanced PAD conditions. These ulcers, which are painful and are either brown or black, must be treated right away.
Although it rarely happens, PAD can also cause erectile dysfunction (ED) due to the lack of blood supply required for erections.
Numbness or Weakness
Numb or weak legs and feet can also be a sign of this condition. In severe PAD, people will experience these symptoms even while resting and not just while engaged in physical activities like walking and exercising.
Calf Muscles Atrophy
People suffering from severe PAD will experience reduction of calf muscle size, otherwise known as atrophy. The lack of blood flow can result in diminished number and size of muscle fibers.
Tissue death and even gangrene are extreme symptoms of PAD that only 20 percent of patients develop. About 80 percent of PAD patients have mild symptoms that do not progress to this stage.