Treatment for peripheral artery disease (PAD) focuses on reducing symptoms and preventing further progression of the disease. In most cases, lifestyle changes, exercise and claudication medications are enough to slow the progression or even reverse the symptoms of PAD.
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An often effective treatment for PAD symptoms is regular physical activity. Your doctor may recommend a program of supervised exercise training for you, also known as cardiac rehabilitation. You may have to begin slowly, but simple walking regimens, leg exercises and treadmill exercise programs can ease symptoms. Exercise for intermittent claudication - poor circulation in leg arteries due to buildup of plaque - takes into account the fact that walking causes pain. The program consists of alternating activity and rest in intervals to build up the amount of time you can walk before the pain sets in. It's best if this exercise program is undertaken in a rehabilitation center on a treadmill and monitored. If it isn’t possible to go to a rehabilitation center, your healthcare professional may recommend a structured community or home-based program that's best suited to your situation.
Many PAD patients have elevated cholesterol levels. A diet low in saturated and trans fat can help lower blood cholesterol levels, but cholesterol-lowering medication may be necessary to maintain the proper cholesterol levels.
Tobacco smoke is a major risk factor for PAD and your risk for heart attack and stroke. Stop smoking. It will help to slow the progression of PAD and other heart-related diseases.
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- You may be prescribed high blood pressure medications and/or cholesterol-lowering medications. It's important to make sure that you take the medication as recommended by your healthcare professional. Not following directions increases your risk for PAD, as well as heart attack and stroke.
- In addition, you may be prescribed medications to help prevent blood clots.
Working with a coordinated healthcare team and making the lifestyle changes necessary to best manage diabetes may help reduce limb-related complications.
For a minority of patients the above recommendations and treatments aren't enough, and minimally invasive treatment or surgery may be needed. Angioplasty or stent placement (as is done in the heart for coronary artery disease (CAD) are nonsurgical and are performed by making a small incision through which a catheter is inserted to reach the blocked artery. A tiny balloon is inflated inside the artery to open the clog. A stent — a tiny wire mesh cylinder — may also be implanted at this time to help hold the artery open. Sometimes a medicine can be given through the catheter or a special device can be inserted through it to remove a clot that's blocking the artery. Atherectomy is a procedure to remove plaque from the artery.
If there's a long portion of artery in your leg that's completely blocked and you're having severe symptoms, surgery may be necessary. A vein from another part of the body can be used to “bypass” and reroute blood around the closed artery. Your healthcare professional will discuss your options and help choose the best procedure for your situation.
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