10 Signs Cholesterol Is Harming Your Legs
Everyone knows high cholesterol can clog the heart’s blood vessels, but the damage doesn’t stop there. Cholesterol can also affect the legs, leading to a condition called peripheral arterial disease, or PAD.
1. Pain in the legs:
An extremely common PAD symptom is claudication, a type of leg pain or discomfort. Because the arteries are clogged, they can’t deliver enough blood to the legs to support exertion. Some people say their legs feel “heavy” or tired, or they report a burning pain. The pain can be in any part of the leg, from the calf to the thigh, or buttock, and it may be in one or both legs. It’s also reproducible: The pain happens, when walking a certain distance (like two blocks), it’s relieved by rest, and then occurs again when walking the same distance.
2. Nighttime cramps:
While sleeping, people with PAD may get cramps, or spasms, typically in the heel, forefoot, or toes. The pain can often be relieved by dangling the foot off the bed or sitting in a chair, which allows gravity to assist blood flow to the feet.
3. Skin and nail changes:
PAD can cause changes in the toenails and the skin on the legs. Because the legs aren’t receiving normal blood flow or nourishment, you may notice, that you are losing hair on the feet and legs, or that it’s growing back more slowly if you shave it. The skin on the legs may get shiny and tight, and toenails may thicken or grow more slowly.
4. Unusual skin coloring:
One of the things doctors look for is a change in the color of your legs. When raised, a leg may be white because of compromised blood flow. Then, when the leg is dangled from the table, it can turn reddish or purplish in color, because the body has dilated the blood vessels to increase flow to the feet.
5. Cold feet:
Feet or legs that feel cold, or are cool to the touch, may be an indicator that you have PAD. That’s because this is a common problem, and it can happen to anyone as he ages—even someone without PAD. However, if you feel like one leg or foot is cold, but not the other, it could be time to talk to your doctor.
6. Sores that don’t heal:
In people with more advanced PAD, a reduction in circulation can result in foot ulcers that don’t heal. Known as ischemic ulcers, these should be treated quickly. The ulcers may be brown or black, and they’re often painful (as opposed to diabetic foot ulcers, which may be painless due to diabetes-related nerve damage).
7. Erectile dysfunction:
This is not a common occurrence, but it is possible for PAD to cause erectile dysfunction. The internal iliac arteries provide the blood supply for erections. If both are closed or severely clogged, it can cause erectile dysfunction (ED).
8. Numbness or weakness:
If your legs or feet feel numb or weak while you are resting, it could be a sign of PAD. “Some patients will just say their legs get weak and feel like they will give out, and some get numbness in their feet,”. People who have symptoms at rest, not just while walking, or exercising, usually have more severe PAD.
9. Atrophy of calf muscles:
People with more advanced PAD may experience atrophy or a reduction in the size of their calf muscle. On the microscopic level, a lack of adequate blood flow can lead to a decline in the number, and size of muscle fibers.
10. Tissue death:
About 80% of people with PAD never progress beyond having relatively mild symptoms, but a small minority of people can experience extreme symptoms. In advanced stages, the disease can cause tissue death, and even gangrene, which can be limb- and life-threatening.
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