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What is Arterial Disease?

Blood vessels called arteries carry fresh blood from the heart to all the organs and tissue in the body, including the lower legs and feet. This fresh blood provides these tissues with the oxygen and nutrients needed to keep them healthy. Blood vessels called veins carry the used blood back to the heart so it may pick up more nutrients to circulate again.

The walls of a healthy artery are strong and elastic, so they can expand and contract with each heartbeat, pumping the blood through the body. Arterial disease occurs when the walls of these blood vessels become narrowed, and hard. This results in a much weaker pumping action and a narrow vessel for the blood to flow through. This means less healthy blood is being delivered from the heart to the tissues in the body, and the feet, being the furthest from the heart, are affected the most.

Arterial disease often occurs in middle aged and older adults, and although often is inherited, is also largely due to lifestyle. Some of these lifestyle factors which can lead to arterial disease are obesity and a diet high in fat and cholesterol, no physical activity, tobacco use, stress and poorly controlled diabetes.

Some of the most common signs and symptoms of arterial disease are pain in the calf area while walking or at rest, decrease hair growth on the legs, and feet that are cool to touch. The legs and feet may also appear pale when raised and purplish when hanging down, and often may have numbness or tingling.

Individuals with arterial disease are at risk for developing wounds. They also often have trouble with healing these wounds because the tissue at the lower legs and feet do not receive enough arterial blood to grow new tissue. Prevention is the best medicine, and this can be achieved by protecting your legs and feet from injury at all times.