Peripheral Arterial Disease

Also called: PAD

Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) happens when there is a narrowing of the blood vessels outside of your heart. The cause of PAD is atherosclerosis. This happens when plaque builds up on the walls of the arteries that supply blood to the arms and legs. Plaque is a substance made up of fat and cholesterol. It causes the arteries to narrow or become blocked. This can reduce or stop blood flow, usually to the legs. If severe enough, blocked blood flow can cause tissue death and can sometimes lead to amputation of the foot or leg.

The main risk factor for PAD is smoking. Other risk factors include older age and diseases like diabetes, high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.

Many people who have PAD don't have any symptoms. If you have symptoms, they may include

  • Pain, numbness, achiness, or heaviness in the leg muscles. This happens when walking or climbing stairs.
  • Weak or absent pulses in the legs or feet
  • Sores or wounds on the toes, feet, or legs that heal slowly, poorly, or not at all
  • A pale or bluish color to the skin
  • A lower temperature in one leg than the other leg
  • Poor nail growth on the toes and decreased hair growth on the legs
  • Erectile dysfunction, especially among men who have diabetes

PAD can increase your risk of heart attack, stroke, and transient ischemic attack.

Doctors diagnose PAD with a physical exam and heart and imaging tests. Treatments include lifestyle changes, medicines, and sometimes surgery. Lifestyle changes include dietary changes, exercise, and efforts to lower high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure.

NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

Symptoms of Peripheral Arterial Disease

The following features are indicative of Peripheral Arterial Disease:
  • calf pain
  • painful cramping in hip, thigh or calf muscles after certain activities
  • leg numbness or weakness
  • coldness in lower leg or foot
  • sores on toes, feet or legs that won't heal
  • change in the color of legs
  • hair loss or slower hair growth on feet and legs
  • slower growth of toenails
  • shiny skin on legs
  • no pulse or a weak pulse in legs or feet
  • erectile dysfunction

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Common Causes of Peripheral Arterial Disease

The following are the most common causes of Peripheral Arterial Disease:
  • atherosclerosis
  • blood vessel inflammation
  • limb injury
  • unusual anatomy of ligaments or muscles
  • radiation exposure

Risk Factors for Peripheral Arterial Disease

The following factors may increase the likelihood of Peripheral Arterial Disease:
  • smoking
  • diabetes
  • hypertension
  • obesity
  • increasing age
  • family history
  • high levels of homocysteine

Prevention of Peripheral Arterial Disease

Yes, it may be possible to prevent Peripheral Arterial Disease. Prevention may be possible by doing the following:
  • quit smoking
  • keep blood sugar in control
  • exercise regularly
  • controlling cholesterol levels
  • controlling blood pressure levels
  • eat foods low in saturated fat
  • maintain a healthy weight

Occurrence of Peripheral Arterial Disease

Number of Cases

The following are the number of Peripheral Arterial Disease cases seen each year worldwide:
  • Very common > 10 Million cases

Common Age Group

Peripheral Arterial Disease can occur at any age.

Common Gender

Peripheral Arterial Disease can occur in any gender.

Lab Tests and Procedures for Diagnosis of Peripheral Arterial Disease

The following lab tests and procedures are used to detect Peripheral Arterial Disease:
  • Physical exam: To find signs of peripheral arterial disease
  • Ankle-brachial index (ABI) test: To diagnose peripheral arterial disease
  • Ultrasound: To evaluate blood flow through blood vessels and identify blocked or narrowed arteries
  • Angiography: To view blood flow through arteries
  • Blood tests: To measure cholesterol and triglycerides and to check for diabetes

Doctor for Diagnosis of Peripheral Arterial Disease

Patients should visit the following specialists if they have symptoms of Peripheral Arterial Disease:
  • Vascular surgeon

Complications of Peripheral Arterial Disease if untreated

Yes, Peripheral Arterial Disease causes complications if it is not treated. Below is the list of complications and problems that may arise if Peripheral Arterial Disease is left untreated:
  • critical limb ischemia
  • stroke
  • heart attack
  • leg or foot that becomes cool to the touch, pale, blue, or numb
  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath with leg pain
  • red, hot, or swollen legs
  • new sores/ulcers
  • fever
  • general ill feeling
  • arteriosclerosis of the extremities

Procedures for Treatment of Peripheral Arterial Disease

The following procedures are used to treat Peripheral Arterial Disease:
  • Angioplasty: To treat peripheral artery disease
  • Bypass surgery: To allow blood to flow around or bypass the blocked or narrowed artery
  • Thrombolytic therapy: To break the clots

Medicines for Peripheral Arterial Disease

Self-care for Peripheral Arterial Disease

The following self-care actions or lifestyle changes may help in the treatment or management of Peripheral Arterial Disease:
  • Stop smoking: Helps reducing risk of complications
  • Regular exercise: Helps conditioning muscles to use oxygen more efficiently
  • Eat healthy diet: Helps control blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • Avoid certain cold medications: To reduce risk of peripheral arterial disease complications

Alternative Medicine for Treatment of Peripheral Arterial Disease

The following alternate medicine and therapies are known to help in the treatment or management of Peripheral Arterial Disease:
  • Using herbal remedies: Ginkgo helps with intermittent claudication to walk longer distances with less pain

Patient Support for Treatment of Peripheral Arterial Disease

The following actions may help Peripheral Arterial Disease patients:
  • Education: Provide education about pain and pain management

Time for Treatment of Peripheral Arterial Disease

While time-period of treatment for each patient may vary, below is the typical time-period for Peripheral Arterial Disease to resolve if treated properly under an expert supervision:
  • In 1 - 3 months

Last updated date

This page was last updated on 2/04/2019.
This page provides information for Peripheral Arterial Disease.
Vascular Diseases

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