Peripheral arterial disease - Symptoms of peripheral arterial disease
NHS Choices Medical Reference
The most common symptom of peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is painful cramping in your leg muscles triggered by physical activity such as walking or climbing the stairs.
The pain usually develops in your calves, but sometimes your hips or thigh muscles can be affected. It can feel mild to severe.
The pain will usually go away after 5-10 minutes when you rest your legs. This pattern of symptoms is known as "intermittent claudication" (claudication is a Latin term that loosely translates as "limping").
Other symptoms of PAD may include:
hair loss on your legs and feet
- numbness or weakness in the legs
- brittle, slow-growing toenails
- ulcers (open sores) on your feet and legs, which do not heal
- changing skin colour on your legs, turning pale or bluish
- shiny skin
- the muscles in your legs may shrink
- you are unable to feel a pulse in your leg or the pulse feels much weaker than normal
- men may develop impotence (erectile dysfunction)
When to seek medical advice
Many people mistakenly think that recurring episodes of leg pain are part of growing older. This is not the case. There is no reason why an otherwise healthy person should experience leg pain.
If you do experience recurring episodes of leg pain, make an appointment with your GP, especially if you are a smoker or you have a confirmed diagnosis of diabetes, high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol.
When to seek urgent medical advice
Some symptoms may suggest that the supply of blood to your legs has become severely restricted and you may need to see a doctor urgently. These include:
- being unable to move the muscles in the affected leg
- feeling a burning or prickling sensation in the affected leg
- your toes suddenly turn blue
- the skin on your toes or lower limbs becomes cold and numb, and turns reddish and then black or begins to swell and produce foul-smelling pus, causing severe pain
If you experience any of the symptoms listed above, contact your GP as soon as possible. If this is not possible, telephone NHS Direct on 0845 46 47 or your local out-of-hours service.