(PAD; Peripheral Vascular Disease; PVD; Arteriosclerosis Obliterans)
Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is disease of any blood vessel that is not part of the heart or brain. PAD is caused by deposits of fatty material in arteries of the legs. Since arteries carry oxygen-rich blood to the cells of the body, a reduction in blood flow can cause organ failure.
PAD is usually caused by a gradual buildup of plaque called atherosclerosis that happens within the arteries. Other causes include blood clots or embolisms, congenital heart disease, and inflammation of the blood vessels called vasculitis.
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PAD can be hereditary. You also may get PAD if you are overweight or obese, or have hypertension, diabetes, or high cholesterol. Unhealthy lifestyle choices such as smoking, eating a high-fat diet, and not getting enough exercise lead to PAD.
PAD is more common in men and in people over 50 years of age. Other factors that increase your chance of developing PAD include:
- Family history of PAD
- High blood pressure or family history of high blood pressure
- Stroke or family history of stroke
- High cholesterol or family history of high cholesterol
Symptoms of PAD are related to the organ or part of the body deprived of blood. This includes:
- Pain, fatigue, aching, tightness, weakness, cramping or tingling in the leg(s) brought on by exercise that goes away when resting
- Numbness and pain of the legs or feet at rest
- Cold hands, legs, or feet
- Loss of hair on the legs and/or feet
- Paleness or blueness of the legs
- Weak or absent pulse in the leg
- Sores, ulcer, or infection of the feet and legs that heal slowly
- Erectile dysfunction
- Swelling in lower extremities
- Muscle atrophy
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
During the exam, your doctor may:
- Check the strength of the pulse in the leg arteries
- Listen for a whooshing sound in a leg artery or the abdomen using a stethoscope
- Check blood pressure at various points in the leg and compare it to the normal arm blood pressure
- Conduct a treadmill test
Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with blood tests.
Images help evaluate blood vessels and surrounding structures. This can be done with:
Your heart activity may need to be tested. This can be done with an electrocardiogram (EKG).
Early treatment can slow or stop the disease. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include the following:
- Smoking cessation
- Diabetes control
- Blood pressure control
- Increased physical activity—such as a walking program
- Weight loss, if overweight
- Low-saturated fat, low-cholesterol diet
- Foot care
—very important for people with diabetes:
- Shoes that fit properly
- Proper treatment of all foot injuries—healing is slowed when circulation is poor, so the risk of infection is higher
The following medications may be prescribed:
- Blood thinners to reduce blood clots
- Pain medication
- Statins to lower cholesterol
- Vasodilators to widen arteries
Procedures may include:
Surgery to open up narrowed arteries is performed in severe cases:
- Endarterectomy —the lining of the artery is removed, along with plaque build up
- Bypass surgery—a vein from another part of the body or a synthetic graft replaces the vessel
General guidelines to prevent PAD include lifestyle changes, smoking cessation, and adhering to any treatment plans for other health conditions.
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Updated September 15, 2014. Accessed March 12, 2015.
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Last Updated: 5/2/2014