PAD is a narrowing of the peripheral arteries, most commonly in the arteries of the pelvis and legs. PAD is similar to coronary artery disease (CAD) and carotid artery disease. All three of these conditions are caused by narrowed and blocked arteries in various critical regions of the body. Hardened arteries (or atherosclerosis) in the coronary artery region, restricts the blood supply to the heart muscle (View an illustration of coronary arteries). Carotid artery disease refers to atherosclerosis in the arteries that supply blood to the brain.
Quick Facts about PAD
The most common symptoms of PAD 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.
- Many people mistake the symptoms of PAD for something else.
- PAD often goes undiagnosed by healthcare professionals.
- People with peripheral arterial disease have four to five times more 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.
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.
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.
If the blockage remains in the peripheral arteries, 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 coronary artery, it can cause a heart attack. Heart attacks happen when an area of the heart tissue dies from lack of blood flow. When it 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 6/17/2011.