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Peripheral Vascular Disease

Peripheral Vascular Disease Symptoms

Only about half of the individuals with peripheral vascular disease have symptoms. Almost always, symptoms are caused by the leg muscles not getting enough blood. Whether you have symptoms depends partly on which artery is affected and to what extent blood flow is restricted. 

The most common symptom of peripheral vascular disease in the legs is pain in one or both calves, thighs, or hips.

  • The pain usually occurs while you are walking or climbing stairs and stops when you rest. This is because the muscles' demand for blood increases during walking and other exercise. The narrowed or blocked arteries cannot supply more blood, so the muscles are deprived of oxygen and other nutrients.
  • This pain is called intermittent (comes and goes) claudication.
  • It is usually a dull, cramping pain. It may also feel like a heaviness, tightness, or tiredness in the muscles of the legs.
  • Cramps in the legs have several causes, but cramps that start with exercise and stop with rest most likely are due to intermittent claudication. When the blood vessels in the legs are completely blocked, leg pain at night is very typical, and the individual almost always hangs his or her feet down to ease the pain. Hanging the legs down allows for blood to passively flow into the distal part of the legs.

Other symptoms of peripheral vascular disease include the following:

  • Buttock pain
  • Numbness, tingling, or weakness in the legs
  • Burning or aching pain in the feet or toes while resting
  • A sore on a leg or a foot that will not heal
  • One or both legs or feet feel cold or change color (pale, bluish, dark reddish)
  • Loss of hair on the legs
  • Impotence

Having symptoms while at rest is a sign of more severe disease.

When to Seek Medical Care

When you have symptoms of peripheral vascular disease in a leg or a foot (or in an arm or a hand), see your health care provider for an evaluation.

Generally, peripheral vascular disease is not an emergency. On the other hand, it should not be ignored.

  • Medical evaluation of your symptoms and effective treatment, if indicated, may prevent further damage to your heart and blood vessels.
  • It may prevent more drastic events such as a heart attack or stroke or loss of toes and feet.

If you have symptoms of peripheral vascular disease along with any of the following, go to the nearest hospital emergency department.

  • Pain in the chest, upper back, neck, jaw, or shoulder
  • Fainting or loss of consciousness
  • Sudden numbness, weakness, or paralysis of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden dizziness, difficulty walking, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause

Do not try to "wait it out" at home. Do not try to drive yourself. Call 911 right away for emergency medical transport.

WebMD Medical Reference from eMedicineHealth

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