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Peripheral arterial disease - Symptoms of peripheral arterial disease

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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Many people with peripheral arterial disease (PAD) do not have any symptoms. However, you may feel painful aching in your leg muscles triggered by physical activity such as walking or climbing stairs.

The pain usually develops in your calves, but sometimes your hip, buttock or thigh muscles can be affected. The pain can range from mild to severe.

The pain will usually go away after 5-10 minutes when you rest your legs. 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
  • men may develop impotence (erectile dysfunction)

When to seek medical advice

If you experience recurring episodes of leg pain, make an appointment with your GP, especially if you are a smoker or have a confirmed diagnosis of diabetes, high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol.

Many people mistakenly think 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.

When to seek urgent medical advice

Some symptoms may suggest 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 muscles in the affected leg
  • a sudden loss of normal sensation in the affected leg
  • feeling a burning or prickling sensation in the affected leg
  • your toes or leg suddenly turns white or 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, phone NHS Direct on 0845 46 47 or your local out-of-hours service.

Medical Review: August 28, 2012
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