What is peripheral arterial disease of the legs?
Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is narrowing or blockage of arteries that causes poor blood flow to your arms and legs. When you walk or
exercise, your leg muscles don't get enough blood and you can get painful
Peripheral arterial disease is also called peripheral
vascular disease. This topic focuses on peripheral arterial disease of the legs, the area where it is most common.
What causes PAD?
The most common cause is the buildup of
plaque on the inside of arteries. Plaque is made of
cholesterol, calcium, and other material in your
blood. Over time, plaque builds up along the inner walls of the arteries,
including those that supply blood to your legs. High cholesterol, high blood pressure, and
smoking all contribute to plaque buildup.
If plaque builds
up in your arteries, there is less room for blood to flow. Every part of your
body needs blood that is rich in oxygen. But plaque buildup prevents that blood
from flowing freely and starves the muscles and other tissues in the lower
What are the symptoms?
Many people who have PAD
don't have any symptoms.
But if you do have symptoms, you may
have a tight, aching, or squeezing pain in the calf, thigh, or buttock. This
intermittent claudication, usually happens after you
have walked a certain distance. For example, your pain may always start after
you have walked a block or two or after a few minutes. The pain goes away if
you stop walking. As PAD gets worse, you may have pain in your foot or toe when
you aren't walking.
How is PAD diagnosed?
Your doctor will talk with you about your
symptoms and past health and will do a physical exam. During the exam, your
doctor will check your pulse at your groin, behind your knee, on the inner
ankle, and on the top of your foot. Your pulse shows the strength of blood
flow. An absent or weak pulse in these spots is a sign of PAD. Your doctor may
also look at the color of your foot when it is higher than the level of your
heart and after exercise. The color of your foot can be a clue to whether
enough blood is getting through your arteries.
You will likely
have a test that compares the blood pressure in your legs with the blood
pressure in your arms. This test is called an ankle-brachial index. A test
called an arterial
Doppler ultrasound may be done to check the blood flow
in your arteries.
Blood tests to check your
cholesterol and blood sugar can tell whether you may
have other problems related to PAD, such as high cholesterol and