Are Your Feet Telling You That Your Arteries Are Clogged?

If you see a podiatrist for foot pain, you may be surprised to learn that the problem is really with your blood circulation. In some cases, the arteries in your lower extremities can become clogged with plaque. The condition is known as peripheral artery disease (PAD). Peripheral artery disease is part of the disease known as atherosclerosis -- hardening of the arteries -- which puts you at risk for heart attack and stroke.

How PAD Causes Problem

Peripheral artery disease restricts blood flow to your lower extremities. Less blood flow means not enough oxygen is getting to the tissues in your legs and feet. When body tissues are deprived of oxygen, they become painful. If PAD isn't identified and treated, the condition can lead to a heart attack or stroke. It can also cause gangrene and lead to amputation of the foot or part of the leg.


Although some people with PAD do not suffer symptoms, those who do may experience pain:

  • In the feet and legs after walking

  • That goes away with rest

  • That eventually worsens and wakes you at night

  • That improves with standing

Other symptoms of PAD include hair loss and shiny skin on the legs, cold toes, and sores on the legs or feet that don't heal.

Risk Factors

While age (60 and up) is a factor that increases your risk for developing PAD, certain other factors increase your risk. These include:

  • Smoking

  • Diabetes

  • High blood pressure

  • High cholesterol

  • Family history of heart disease

  • Previous heart attack or stroke

How A Podiatrist Screens for PAD

When screening for PAD, your podiatrist may start by checking the pulse in each foot and then perform a test known as the ankle-brachial index (ABI). He or she the will take the blood pressure in your ankle and then compare it to the blood pressure in your arm. The doctor will use blood pressure cuffs and an ultrasound machine to determine if the blood flow to your feet is normal. Decreased blood pressure in the leg may be a sign of PAD.

If your doctor suspects PAD, he or she may order coronary angiography tests to assess the blood flow in your arteries with the help of X-ray imaging. A dye is injected into your blood vessels that allows the doctor to watch the blood as it flows throughout your vascular system.


Treatment for the condition varies depending on the severity of the disease but generally includes your doctor:

  • Prescribing medications to lower your blood pressure or cholesterol levels and prevent blood clots

  • Recommending that you quit smoking (if you smoke)

  • Suggesting lifestyle changes related to diet and exercise

When an artery is nearly or completely blocked, more invasive treatment may be required. One option is for doctors to take a healthy artery from another part of your body and use it to bypass blood away from the blocked artery.

Another treatment option is the use of angioplasty -- a procedure that requires inflating a balloon inside the blocked artery. The balloon pushes plaque from the center of the artery to the wall and stretches the artery open wider, allowing blood to flow through. The doctor may then place a stent (a tiny tube) to keep the artery open and prevent future blockage. If you are experiencing any of the above systems, visit a podiatrist, like West Central Podiatry Consultants, so they can check for PAD.