Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) impairs blood flow in your body, and the signs and symptoms can manifest on your skin.
Many people with PAD notice changes on the skin of their feet and legs, such as:
- Redness or discoloration
- Texture changes (skin may become dry or shiny in certain areas)
- Thinning of leg hair
- Slow healing wounds on toes and feet
„The skin is the body’s largest organ, and although it may be considered ‚external‘, the skin often reflects the health and well-being of internal organs,“ said dermatologist Jeremy A. Brauer, MD, founder and director of Spectrum Skin and Laser in Purchase, NY.
„While patients may not initially be aware of an underlying condition, what they notice on their skin, hair, and nails may be the first indication of a disease,“ Brauer said.
Any changes in your skin or other symptoms can be a sign of PAD or the worsening of the disease. Keeping an eye on the symptoms and informing your dermatologist or doctor if you notice the following or other changes is important:
- Redness, pale spots, or other discoloration on your feet and legs
- Cuts, blisters, cracks, or scratches that won’t heal
- Burning or painful sensation in the feet
- Excessively cool skin even when not feeling cold
PAD can affect your skin due to circulation problems. Skin changes can occur when your arteries narrow or become blocked, making it difficult for oxygen and nutrient-filled blood to flow to your legs and feet.
If there is a complete loss of blood circulation in the legs or feet, PAD symptoms can become severe and lead to gangrene – the death of body tissue – and, in some cases, require amputation.
In addition to skin changes, pain in the feet or legs while walking or moving may also occur. However, the pain subsides when you are at rest and your lower body requires less circulation.
While these skin symptoms may not be overly concerning, they could be signs that PAD is worsening. Left untreated, there may be a higher risk of heart attack, stroke, or other serious conditions caused by blockages in your blood vessels.
If you have PAD and notice changes in your skin, make an appointment with your dermatologist. They can suggest ways to treat the skin issues so you feel better and figure out if something else is going on.
„If someone has concerns about their skin, they should definitely see their dermatologist,“ Brauer said. „This is especially true if you notice sores on the feet (or anywhere on the body) that are not healing or getting worse. During this visit or subsequent visits, laboratory tests may be ordered or referrals to specialists may be made to diagnose any underlying conditions.“
Since skin – especially on the feet and legs – can be affected by PAD, it is important to regularly check your lower body for any changes and give your skin a little extra care.
„Opt for shorter, lukewarm showers and moisturize generously afterward to keep the skin hydrated and maintain the integrity of the barrier,“ Brauer said.
Although PAD is a circulatory disease, it can affect the entire body, including the skin. The things you do to take care of your entire body will help with PAD.
„Skin health is part of overall health and well-being,“ Brauer said. „Good eating and sleeping habits, as well as a healthy, balanced diet, are key to maintaining a healthy body and skin.“
You should also quit smoking and maintain a balanced, fiber-rich, low-cholesterol, low-fat, and low-sodium diet. Consult your doctor on starting an exercise program and check for other health conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol, as they can worsen PAD as well.
And if your doctor prescribes medication, be sure to take it as directed.