One of the most serious forms of cardiovascular disease is peripheral artery disease or PAD. While coronary artery disease results from a hardening and narrowing of arteries in the heart, PAD is the result of hardening and narrowing arteries in the extremities, including your feet. A reduction in blood flow – or a complete blockage – in the feet because of PAD causes tissue damage which, if allowed to progress, can put PAD patients at risk for a toe, foot or even partial leg amputation.
It is important, particularly if you already have heart disease or other cardiovascular conditions, to monitor your feet for signs of PAD and see your doctor quickly if you detect any. And if you have already been diagnosed with PAD, it is critical to care for your feet in the right way to slow progression of the disease and avoid additional tissue damage.
Signs of PAD which appear in the feet
PAD can cause discomfort in your feet during walking or other daily activities. If you have trouble walking more than short distances or feel pain in your feet and lower legs when active, alert your physician so he or she can conduct an assessment for PAD. Current smokers, past smokers, and anyone with a family history of PAD should also be assessed regularly.
Other signs of the poor circulation associated with PAD include extreme dryness of the skin on your feet, a shininess or glossy look to the skin on your feet, the lack of hair on your big toe, a thickening or discoloration of your toenails, and/or coldness or numbness in your toes.
Caring for your feet if you have PAD
The diminished blood flow to your extremities caused by PAD means that any injury, cut, bruise or sore will be slower to heal and makes you much more susceptible to infections. If you have peripheral artery disease, your feet are very vulnerable and require extra protection in the following ways.
Choose the right shoes and socks
Be sure that your shoes fit well and are comfortable. Any tightness can cause chafing and ill-fitting shoes can result in breaks in the skin that turn into hard to heal wounds. Also wear thick socks that will protect your feet from extreme temperatures and relieve pressure points in your shoes.
Wash and moisturize daily
Every day, wash your feet with warm water and soap, then dry them thoroughly including in between your toes. Then use a rich moisturizer to keep your skin from drying and cracking since cracks in the skin allow infection-causing bacteria to enter your body.
Trim your toenails carefully
With PAD, it is very important to avoid cutting your toenails too short or cutting them in rounded shapes since these techniques will give bacteria a chance to gather in the corners and cause infection. It is best to cut your toenails straight across instead. Even more importantly, avoid cutting your skin or cuticles during nail trimmings.
Do not go barefoot
It is best for those diagnosed with PAD to wear shoes at all times to protect from environmental and household hazards such as glass, wood splinters, pebbles and rocks, dust or metal. Always put on shoes when going outside and wear slippers or sandals inside.
Staying active is important for those diagnosed with PAD because exercise promotes better blood flow to your feet. Be sure to choose activities, however, that place minimal stress on your feet such as swimming, bicycling or walking. When you are unable to exercise, flex your feet and wiggle your toes frequently especially when sitting to help with circulation.
Get professional medical treatment
If you have been diagnosed with PAD, never attempt to treat foot fungus, corns, bunions, or open sores on your own with over the counter treatments. Always get medical attention from your physician or podiatrist for these issues in order to prevent complications and worsening foot problems.
To learn more about how to minimize the impact of peripheral artery disease on your feet, log on to vascularhealthclinics.org.