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Peripheral Neuropathy vs. Peripheral Artery Disease

If you’re experiencing pain in your feet and lower legs, perhaps accompanied by cramps or burning sensations, there may be two possible causes for your symptoms: peripheral neuropathy or peripheral artery disease (PAD). While these conditions have similar names, and many of their symptoms can be confusingly alike, they affect different systems of the body. Getting an accurate diagnosis is essential for getting effective treatment.

How do you distinguish between these disorders? Knowing what they have in common as well as tell-tale differences in how peripheral neuropathy and PAD can present will help in seeking the right care.

What Peripheral Neuropathy and PAD Have in Common and Their Primary Difference

Both peripheral neuropathy and PAD can cause pain in the feet and legs, as well as cramps or a feeling of achiness in the limbs. Unfortunately, this type of symptom can be hard to pin down to a specific cause, or it may be mistakenly attributed to the effects of more strenuous activity than usual. Both conditions also tend to increase in severity over time if not effectively treated, causing painful symptoms to become more evident and persistent. Early treatment, on the other hand, can help manage symptoms and slow progression.

The risk of developing either peripheral neuropathy or PAD increases if you have been diagnosed with diabetes, because uncontrolled levels of blood sugar have negative effects on tissues throughout the body. In peripheral neuropathy, over time high blood sugar damages the nerves, hindering their ability to transmit signals through the body. In PAD, diabetes causes changes in blood vessels that contribute to the formation of plaques (atherosclerosis) in the arteries of the limbs, particularly the feet and legs.

That is the fundamental difference between peripheral neuropathy and PAD: neuropathy affects the nervous system, while PAD affects the arteries. If the root cause of symptoms is not correctly diagnosed, patients may miss opportunities to preserve their health and well-being. This is why it is essential to consult a doctor as soon as you notice troubling symptoms. It is helpful to keep a daily log of symptoms, with as much detail as possible, so your medical provider can get a clear picture of your symptoms and the conditions under which they occur.

Clues that Can Help Distinguish PAD from Peripheral Neuropathy

While both nerve damage and restricted circulation can cause tingling, numbness, and/or foot pain, certain symptoms are more likely to be caused by poor circulation—that is, from PAD rather than peripheral neuropathy. These include:

  • A cooler temperature in one foot or leg than the other
  • Pale or blue skin on one or both feet
  • Poor growth of leg hair or toenails
  • Cramps or pain that increase with activity but that go away with rest
  • Cramps in the foot, ankle, calf, thigh, or buttocks
  • Wounds on the foot, ankle, or leg that are slow to heal or that fail to heal

Another difference is that while peripheral neuropathy symptoms often get worse at night, interfering with sleep, patients tend not to experience pain from PAD at night until the condition is very advanced.

Is it possible to have both PAD and peripheral neuropathy? Unfortunately, yes. In diabetic patients, this can contribute to the development of stubborn diabetic foot wounds. The numbness from peripheral neuropathy makes it difficult to notice when small injuries occur or when infection starts to set in. Then the restricted blood flow from PAD impairs the body’s ability to fight the infection and heal the wound. Eventually this can lead to life-threatening systemic infections, gangrene, or amputation.

Diagnosing and Treating PAD

Many patients receive a delayed diagnosis of PAD because they are not given the right diagnostic tests to identify their circulatory issues. This can allow plaques to accumulate, making painful symptoms worse and interfering with mobility. Because a sedentary lifestyle can accelerate the progression of PAD, the time lost may result in an overall worse outcome for the patient.

At the Vein & Fibroid Treatment Center, board-certified interventional radiologist Dr. Omar Saleh is an expert in the diagnosis and treatment of PAD. Our advanced diagnostic techniques can pinpoint the cause of painful symptoms and form the basis of personalized recommendations for a course of medical treatment to reduce symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. We are also able to perform minimally invasive outpatient procedures to open arteries that have been narrowed or blocked by PAD to restore circulation, successfully averting amputation due to nonhealing wounds.

If you suspect your leg pain may be caused by peripheral artery disease, Dr. Saleh can provide answers and hope. To book your consultation at the Vein & Fibroid Treatment Center, contact us here today.

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