People with diabetes are at higher risk of developing atherosclerosis, the most common cause of peripheral artery disease (PAD). And individuals with PAD have a much higher risk of heart attack or stroke.
PAD is a condition similar to coronary artery disease (blockage in arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle) and carotid artery disease (blockage in arteries leading to the brain). However, with PAD, it's the arteries leading to areas outside the brain and heart that become blocked, including the neck, arms and belly, but most often in the legs and feet. Fatty deposits build up in the inner linings of the artery walls of the legs, making them narrower, hindering blood flow and can even stop blood flow to the legs and feet completely. This condition can lead to pain, especially when walking, as well as a number of other symptoms like foot wounds that are slow to heal, one foot being much colder than the other, or gangrene. In severe cases, foot or leg amputation may be needed.
Why does diabetes increase the risk for developing PAD?
Individuals with diabetes are already at an increase risk for PAD. Add to that another of the risk factors listed here, and there's an even greater chance of developing the condition.
- Physical inactivity
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- High LDL ("bad") cholesterol
- Family history of cardiovascular disease, stroke or PAD
- Previous history of coronary artery disease (heart attack, angina, angioplasty or bypass surgery) or stroke
Prevention & Treatment of PAD
A number of the risk factors mentioned here can be controlled to minimize the likelihood of developing PAD and to slow its progression. For people with diabetes, it's especially important to keep blood glucose levels as normal as possible. Also, regular physical activity is important, and special footwear and medications may be needed. Learn more about how to prevent and treat PAD. Taking steps to reduce the risk of PAD also helps reduce the chances of a heart attack or stroke while enhancing quality of life.
This content was last reviewed January 2016.