Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a narrowing of the peripheral arteries to the legs, stomach, arms, and head - most commonly in the arteries of the legs. PAD is similar to coronary artery disease (CAD).
Both PAD and CAD are caused by atherosclerosis that narrows and blocks arteries in various critical regions of the body.
Quick Facts about PAD
The most common symptoms of PAD involving the lower extremities are cramping, pain or tiredness in the leg or hip muscles while walking or climbing stairs. Typically, this pain goes away with rest and returns when you walk again.
View an illustration of PAD
- Many people mistake the symptoms of PAD for something else.
- PAD often goes undiagnosed by healthcare professionals.
- People with peripheral arterial disease have a much higher risk of heart attack or stroke.
- Left untreated, PAD can lead to gangrene and amputation.
Added risks for PAD
- If you smoke, you have an especially high risk for PAD.
- If you have diabetes, you have an especially high risk for PAD.
- People with high blood pressure or high cholesterol are at risk for PAD.
- Your risk increases with age.
The good news for PAD patients
- PAD is easily diagnosed in a simple, painless way.
- You can take control by leading a heart-healthy lifestyle and following the recommendations of your healthcare professional.
- Most cases of PAD can be managed with lifestyle changes and medication.
|View an animation of atherosclerosis|
Atherosclerosis and PAD
Atherosclerosis is a disease in which plaque builds up in the wall of an artery. PAD is usually caused by atherosclerosis in the peripheral arteries (or outer regions away from the heart). Plaque is made up of deposits of fats, cholesterol and other substances. Plaque formations can grow large enough to significantly reduce the blood's flow through an artery. When a plaque formation becomes brittle or inflamed, it may rupture, triggering a blood clot to form. A clot may either further narrow the artery, or completely block it. Read more about atherosclerosis.
If the blockage remains in the peripheral arteries in the legs, it can cause pain, changes in skin color, sores or ulcers and difficulty walking. Total loss of circulation to the legs and feet can cause gangrene and loss of a limb.
If the blockage occurs in a carotid artery, it can cause a stroke.
It's important to learn the facts about PAD. As with any disease, the more you understand, the more likely you'll be able to help your healthcare professional make an early diagnosis and start treatment. PAD has common symptoms, but many people with PAD never have any symptoms at all.
Learn the facts, consult your healthcare professional and take control of your risk factors for heart attack and stroke. You have the power to improve your heart health.
This content was last reviewed on 8/05/2014.