Peripheral Neuropathy vs Peripheral Artery Disease


May 9, 2023


Peripheral Neuropathy vs Peripheral Artery Disease

If you are experiencing cramping and a burning sensation in your legs that is getting worse over time you might want to ask your doctor about Peripherial Neuropathy and/or Peripherial Artery disease. 

What is Peripheral Neuropathy? 

Peripheral neuropathy, also known as peripheral neuritis, occurs when the nervous system becomes damaged or diseased. There are a few different causes of peripheral neuropathy; however, one of the most common is diabetes. Ignoring high blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia) over time can contribute to peripheral neuropathy. Increased amounts of blood sugar can damage nerves and interfere with their ability to send signals to the rest of the body.

Hyperglycemia can weaken the walls of your blood vessels. When your blood vessels are not able to deliver oxygen and nutrients to your essential organs, your peripheral neuropathy symptoms will worsen.

Can Peripheral Neuropathy Cause Leg Pain? 

Yes, one of the most common peripheral neuropathy symptoms is pain in the legs or feet. Neuropathy pain in feet may start as a tingly feeling, but can soon become severe, causing complete numbness. People with peripheral neuropathy symptoms may only have them in one or both of the feet. Many patients report feeling an increase of neuropathy pain in feet during the night, which negatively affects their sleep.

Depending on your level of activity during the day and severity of your condition, the pain may feel stabbing or more intermittent. Neuropathy pain in your feet or legs may cause you to avoid certain activities like walking and climbing stairs. It’s important to talk to your doctor to see what exercises and stretches could help ease your discomfort.

Not only does peripheral neuropathy symptoms make walking painful and difficult, but it can cause additional symptoms such as:

  • Burning sensations
  • Cramping or general achiness
  • Lack of feeling, tingly, or numbness in the legs/feet
  • Reduced coordination or balance
  • Difficulty sleeping due to leg or foot pain

Because it is considered to be a progressive disorder, peripheral neuropathy symptoms may affect your lower extremities at first but then include your upper extremities, like your hands or feet, later on.

How is Peripheral Neuropathy treated? 

Peripheral neuropathy can easily be treated, especially if it is diagnosed early. However, it’s important to note that it is a progressive condition that will worsen over time. Peripheral neuropathy symptoms can become quite severe, affecting your quality of life and reducing mobility.

Additionally, due to the lack of feeling in your legs or feet, you may miss signs of an infection, including small wounds. This can become quite serious, resulting in amputation, if not treated accordingly. If you notice slow or non-healing wounds on your foot, it’s crucial to note that peripheral neuropathy is not the only cause. Vascular diseases like peripheral artery disease (PAD) can also cause open wounds to not fully heal, leading to serious infection.

What is Peripheral Artery Disease? 

Peripheral artery disease (PAD), also referred to as peripheral vascular disease, is caused by plaque buildup within the arteries. When arteries become clogged, crucial oxygen and nutrients aren’t able to reach the lower extremities. Consequently, people with PAD may experience painful symptoms in their legs and feet.

The major difference between peripheral neuropathy and peripheral vascular disease is that PAD affects the arteries and neuropathy affects the nervous system.

Because both conditions have similar symptoms, it’s important to consult your doctor as soon as possible. Peripheral neuropathy and peripheral vascular disease can be challenging to self-diagnose because leg pain or other symptoms are often difficult to track or explain. Make sure to write down what you’re experiencing on a daily basis to accurately inform your specialist.

What doe Peripheral Artery Disease Symptoms Feel like? 

Because peripheral artery disease affects the lower extremities, they can sometimes be mistaken for peripheral neuropathy symptoms, and vice versa. However, in contrast there are a few outlying symptoms that set them apart; they include:

  • Cramps in the thigh, calf, ankle, buttocks, or foot
  • Difficulty climbing stairs
  • Fatigue in the legs or achiness
  • Slow or non-healing wounds on the leg, angle, or foot
  • Temperature of one leg is cooler than the other
  • Leg hair loss or poor toenail growth
  • Numbness or weakness in the legs
  • Pain that stops at rest
  • Paleness or blueness in one or both legs

Unfortunately, diagnosing PAD isn’t always easy. Depending on the individual’s case and severity, some patients experience little to no symptoms. If you’re at risk, are experiencing symptoms, or have a family history of PAD, get checked. Just like peripheral neuropathy, it’s important to catch PAD before it worsens.

Peripheral Neuropathy Vs. Peripheral Vascular Disease

The common denominator of peripheral neuropathy and peripheral vascular disease is diabetes. Where peripheral neuropathy may weaken your arterial walls, peripheral artery disease makes them rough allowing plaque to accumulate. If you think your diabetic leg pain is caused by either of these conditions, discuss with your doctor and get tested. People with diabetes should communicate regularly with their doctor, work to lower their blood sugar, as well as actively decrease their blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Peripheral neuropathy and peripheral vascular disease can both affect your quality of life by decreasing your mobility. Living a sedentary life can cause both conditions to progress at an increased rate. Receiving a PAD or peripheral neuropathy diagnosis can help determine the treatment path your doctor will take.

As you can see, both peripheral neuropathy and peripheral vascular disease can be easily mistaken for one another. It’s important to receive a clear PAD or peripheral neuropathy diagnosis to proceed. Thankfully, both of these conditions can be treated easily.

If you’re living with PAD or neuropathy and walking has become difficult, it’s a good idea to get tested. Whether you have diabetes or not, you should get tested if you’re exhibiting symptoms.

Source: USA Vascular Centers

We hope this information is helpful to you in the important work you do as a family caregiver.
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