PAD is similar to coronary artery disease (CAD)
Peripheral artery disease is a narrowing of the peripheral arteries serving the legs, stomach, arms and head. (“Peripheral” in this case means away from the heart, in the outer regions of the body.) PAD most commonly affects arteries in the legs.
Both PAD and coronary artery disease (CAD) are caused by atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis narrows and blocks arteries in critical regions of the body.
Quick facts about PAD
The most common symptoms of PAD involving the lower extremities are cramping, pain or tiredness in the leg or hip muscles while walking or climbing stairs. Typically, this pain goes away with rest and returns when you walk again.
Be aware that:
- Many people mistake the symptoms of PAD for something else.
- PAD often goes undiagnosed by healthcare professionals.
- People with peripheral arterial disease have a higher risk of coronary artery disease, heart attack or stroke.
- Left untreated, PAD can lead to gangrene and amputation.
Added risks for PAD
Other factors can increase your chances for peripheral artery disease, including:
- Your risk for peripheral artery disease increases with age.
- High blood pressure or high cholesterol puts you at risk for PAD.
- If you smoke, you have an especially high risk for PAD.
- If you have diabetes, you have an especially high risk for PAD.
The good news
If you’re at risk for peripheral artery disease or have been diagnosed with PAD, it’s worth knowing that:
- PAD is easily diagnosed in a simple, painless way.
- You can take control: Follow your doctor’s recommendations and strive to lead a heart-healthy lifestyle.
- Some cases of PAD can be managed with lifestyle changes and medication.
Atherosclerosis and PAD
If you have atherosclerosis, that means that plaque has built up inside your artery walls. Plaque is made up of deposits of fats, cholesterol and other substances. Atherosclerosis in the peripheral arteries is the most common cause of PAD.
To see how plaque limits blood flow, view our interactive PAD library.
What happens is this: First, plaque builds up enough to narrow an artery, which chokes off blood flow. Next, if that plaque becomes brittle or inflamed, it may rupture, triggering a blood clot to form. A clot can further narrow the artery, or completely block it.
If that blockage remains in the peripheral arteries of the legs, it can cause pain, changes in skin color, difficulty walking and sores or ulcers. Total loss of circulation to the legs and feet can cause gangrene and the loss of a limb.
If the blockage occurs in a carotid artery, it can cause a stroke.
It’s important to learn the facts about PAD. As with any disease, the more you understand, the more you’ll be able to help your doctor make an early diagnosis. PAD has common symptoms, but many people with PAD never have any symptoms at all.
Learn the facts, talk to your doctor and take control of your cardiovascular health.