Vascular Health: What’s It Matter Anyway?

There are often no symptoms in the early stages of disease affecting your body’s elaborate network of arteries and veins

You know that your heart’s health is of utmost importance. But what about your vascular system? Unfortunately, there are often no symptoms in the early stages of disease affecting your body’s elaborate network of arteries and veins. And when they do surface, they may seem more like mere nuisances than true warning signs.

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Don’t ignore these six symptoms. They could be a sign you have a problem with blood reaching your legs, feet, arms, hands – or even those in the vessels in your head and neck that feed your brain.

1. Leg pain – The most common symptom of atherosclerosis (a “hardening” or “clogging” of the arteries) in peripheral vascular disease is leg pain. Intermittent claudication – severe pain, usually in the calf muscles – is felt most intensely while walking and eases up at rest. It is a telltale sign of significant disease in your arteries, called peripheral artery disease (PAD), and should be seen as more than just a pain in the legs.

2. Edema – Edema is swelling that is caused by fluid trapped in your body’s tissues. Edema happens most often in the feet, ankles, and legs. It can be a sign of many conditions, including blood clots or a weakening in the valves of the veins in the legs (a condition called venous insufficiency).

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3. Cold, painful hands or feet – If you are experiencing cold, painful sensations if your hands or feet, it is a sign that your blood is not properly reaching your extremities. It could be a sign of narrowing or blockages of the arteries in the arms or legs  (peripheral artery disease). Cold and painful fingers and toes could also be related to Raynaud’s phenomenon, another vascular disorder in which spasming blood vessels cause hands and feet change colors from white to blue to red during fluctuating temperatures.

4. Tingling – In its most severe cases, PAD can cause tingling or numbness in the lower legs and feet when you are at rest. It may be accompanied by a feeling of fatigue or weakness in the extremities.

5. Pain in the buttocks or thighs – Signs that a blockage in the vascular system involves the more central arteries such as the aorta or iliac vessels include pain in the buttocks or thighs. The pain occurs while walking and goes away when you rest. It does not typically happen when you are sitting or standing still.

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6. Ulcers – At its worst, a serious and prolonged lack of blood to the tissue can cause critical ischemia (oxygen deprivation) in the leg, foot and toes. This causes ulcers (sores that do not heal) and gangrene (death of the tissue). These are indications that the tissue has been severely damaged. A leg or toe ulcer can be a sign of the most severe form of PAD and requires urgent evaluation.

Getting treatment for vascular disease is critical because it also puts you at higher risk for heart attack and stroke, as well as problems with your legs and feet. Don’t wait. See your doctor if you have any of the above symptoms or questions about your heart or vascular health.