How does diabetes affect peripheral artery disease (PAD)?

If you have diabetes, you're much more likely to have peripheral artery disease (PAD), a heart attack, or a stroke. But you can cut your chances of having those problems by taking special care of your blood vessels.

Many people with peripheral arterial disease (PAD) do not have any symptoms. Some people may experience mild leg pain or trouble walking and believe that it's just a sign of getting older. Others may have the following symptoms:

  • Leg pain, particularly when walking or exercising, which disappears after a few minutes of rest
  • Numbness, tingling, or coldness in the lower legs or feet
  • Sores or infections on your feet or legs that heal slowly

People with diabetes are especially vulnerable to the serious foot problems that PAD patients so easily develop. If you have PAD, and particularly if you have PAD and diabetes, it is vitally important to take care of your feet every day. By doing so, you can prevent serious foot problems from getting out of control and requiring amputation of a toe, foot or lower leg.

With PAD, you may find that seemingly small and ordinary cuts, sores and blisters on your feet do not heal quickly—or at all. That is because the flow of blood that carries oxygen and nutrients needed for healing is restricted or blocked by a build-up of fatty deposits called plaque inside the blood vessels supplying your legs and feet. Without it, you cannot heal well.

Do not compare yourself to people without PAD and diabetes - they typically heal quickly. This is not the case for people with both conditions. In addition to reduced blood flow, another reason for this is that if you have PAD and diabetes, you likely also have diabetic neuropathy, or damage to your nerves due to high blood sugar levels. Diabetic neuropathy can lead to the loss of feeling in your feet. Without feeling, you may develop a blister or a sore—and not even be aware of it, which allows it to get worse fast. This is why diabetic patients should not walk barefoot. Their injuries are more difficult to heal.

If minor sores are not cared for and treated properly, they can become serious infections. Sores may become so infected they lead to the need for amputation of a toe, foot or leg. In the United States, PAD and diabetes are the main causes for foot or leg amputations.

Dr. Saeed Payvar, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

People with diabetes are prone to peripheral artery disease (also known as peripheral vascular disease), as well as foot and ankle ulcers and sores. In this video, Saeed Payvar, MD, from West Valley Cardiology Services, says these patients must be examined immediately.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.