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Heart Disease Health Center

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Peripheral Arterial Disease of the Legs - Cause

The most common cause of peripheral arterial disease is the buildup of plaque inside blood vessels called arteries. Plaque is made up of excess cholesterol, calcium, and other substances in your bloodstream. Over time, plaque builds up camera.gif in the walls of the arteries, including the arteries that feed your legs. The plaque deposits decrease the space through which oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood can flow. Poor blood flow "starves" the muscles and other tissues in the lower body.

This process of plaque buildup-called atherosclerosis or "hardening of the arteries"-usually happens throughout the body, including the leg arteries, coronary arteries camera.gif, and carotid arteries.

Atherosclerosis gradually develops over a lifetime. High cholesterol, high blood pressure camera.gif, and smoking contribute to atherosclerosis and peripheral arterial disease.

In very rare cases, peripheral arterial disease can be unrelated to atherosclerosis and caused instead by inflammation of the blood vessels (vasculitis) and old injuries that damaged blood vessels.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: August 13, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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