Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)

What Is Peripheral Artery Disease?

Peripheral artery disease, sometimes called peripheral arterial disease, is a condition in which your arteries are narrowed and can’t carry as much blood to the outer parts of your body, like your arms and legs. It’s a form of peripheral vascular disease.

If you don’t get treatment, you could be more likely to have a heart attack or stroke. It can also lead to you needing to have a limb removed (amputation).

Peripheral Artery Disease Symptoms

You may have muscle pain or cramping because there’s less blood flow to your legs. This type of pain is called claudication. You usually feel it when you walk or climb stairs, but it stops when you rest.

It can affect different muscle groups, including:

  • Buttock and hip
  • Calf (most common)
  • Foot (less common)
  • Thigh

Some people have a sense of burning or numbness. If you have an advanced form of peripheral artery disease, your toes or feet might hurt even while you’re resting.

Other signs and symptoms of peripheral artery disease include:

  • Changes in the color of your legs
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Leg weakness
  • Legs that are cooler than your arms
  • Loss of hair on your legs
  • Fainter pulse in your feet
  • Shiny skin on your legs
  • Slow toenail growth
  • Wounds or sores on your toes or feet that don’t heal well

You can also have severe blockages with no pain at all. This usually is because your body grows blood vessels around the blockages.

Peripheral Artery Disease Causes and Risk Factors

Things in your bloodstream like fat and cholesterol form plaques that build up in your arteries. That makes those arteries harder and narrower. This condition, called atherosclerosis, is the most common cause of peripheral artery disease.

Things that raise your risk of having peripheral artery disease include:

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Peripheral Artery Disease Diagnosis and Tests

Your doctor will start with a physical exam to look for signs of peripheral artery disease. They might check blood flow in your legs and feet and listen for a whooshing sound in your leg arteries.

You might get other tests, including:

  • Angiogram, in which your doctor uses a needle to put dye into your bloodstream before taking an X-ray to find blocked arteries
  • Ankle-brachial index, which compares blood pressure in your lower leg and your upper arm
  • Blood tests to check for risk factors like diabetes or high cholesterol
  • Ultrasound to check blood flow and find blocked arteries

Peripheral Artery Disease Treatment

Some simple things you can do to manage your symptoms and keep peripheral artery disease from getting worse include:

  • Control your cholesterol and blood pressure
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Exercise
  • Don’t smoke

You also might need medical treatments including:

  • Angioplasty. This procedure uses a catheter, a thin tube, to put a tiny balloon into your artery. When it’s inflated, the balloon pushes plaque out to widen the artery and restore blood flow. Your doctor might also put a mesh tube called a stent into your artery to keep it open.
  • Medications. The drug cilostazol eases symptoms in many people. Pentoxifylline is another medication that can help with poor circulation. Doctors may also prescribe aspirin or other anti-clotting drugs. You also might take medicines to lower your cholesterol, blood pressure, or blood sugar.
  • Surgery. If needed, your doctor can route your blood flow around a blocked artery with a procedure called a bypass graft.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on October 15, 2019

Sources

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Society for Vascular Surgery: "Angiogram," “Peripheral Arterial Disease.”

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