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If high blood pressure is left untreated for a long time, it can put extra strain on the arteries in your arms and legs and may cause the blood vessels in the legs to narrow, causing painful cramps.
High blood pressure can cause your arteries to become more narrow. They can also damage the arteries, and fatty deposits can build up around the areas of damage. These deposits make the arteries narrower still and this results in poor circulation in the legs and feet. These problems are known as peripheral artery disease (PAD)
What are the symptoms of PAD?
The most common sign of peripheral artery disease (PAD) is painful cramping in your legs or hips when you are walking or moving, which goes away when you stop. The cramping occurs because there is not enough blood flowing to the muscles in your legs, and the pain is caused by them not getting the energy and oxygen they need.
If you have had PAD for some time, the pain in your legs may persist, and you may find that your calves and feet are much colder than the rest of your body. You may also develop sores on your legs or feet that do not heal, or you may have hair loss in these areas.
How is it detected?
Your doctor will measure the blood pressure in your arm and then your ankle. Normally your ankle blood pressure will be at least 90% of your arm pressure, if it is lower than this then it is likely that the leg arteries have narrowed, suggesting peripheral artery disease (PAD).
Can PAD be treated?
It is possible to slow down the progression of peripheral artery disease (PAD) and sometimes reverse it making positive changes to your lifestyle.
Regular walking for 30 minutes a day can help. If this is too much for you to do all at once, you may be asked to build up the time you can walk for before you feel pain. In other words, walk until you feel pain, rest for a few minutes and then continue to walk until you need to rest again, until you have walked for 30 minutes.
Eating less saturated fats and trans-fats (which build up in the arteries) and replacing them with unsaturated fats will help carry the fatty deposits away from the arteries. If you are overweight, losing weight will help. Giving up smoking will also help greatly.
You may be given medicines to help stop your blood from clotting (such as aspirin) and medicines to lower your cholesterol levels (statins).
How can I lower my risk of PAD?
Having high blood pressure is a major risk factor for peripheral artery disease (PAD). If you can lower your blood pressure through lifestyle changes and medicines, you can reduce your risk.
If you smoke, if you have an unhealthy diet, or if you are overweight or not very active, you should think about changing to a more healthy lifestyle. This will help lower your blood pressure, and lower your risk of developing PAD.