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Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)

Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) occurs when arteries in the legs become narrowed or dogged with plaque (cholesterol) – referred to as atherosclerosis – reducing blood flow to the legs. PAD can lead to leg pain when walking (claudication), disability, and even amputation. Blocked leg arteries can be a red flag that other arteries, including those in the heart and brain, may also be blocked—increasing the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

The chance of having PAD increases with age. People over age 50, especially men, have a higher risk for PAD, but the risk is increased if a person:

  • Smokes, or used to smoke
  • Has diabetes
  • Has high blood pressure
  • Has abnormal blood cholesterol levels
  • Is of African American ethnicity
  • Has had heart disease, a heart attack or a stroke
  • Has kidney disease involving hemodialysis

Peripheral artery disease is also likely to be a sign of a more widespread accumulation of fatty deposits in the arteries. This condition may be reducing blood flow to the heart and brain, as well as the legs.

Peripheral artery disease can often be improved by quitting tobacco, exercising and eating a healthy diet.

Signs & Symptoms

While many people with PAD do not experience obvious symptoms, others with the disease may have:

  • Painful cramping in one or both hips, thighs or calf muscles after certain activities, such as walking or climbing stairs (claudication)
    • Claudication symptoms include muscle pain or cramping in legs or arms that’s triggered by activity, such as walking, but disappears after a few minutes of rest. The location of the pain depends on the location of the clogged or narrowed artery. Calf pain is most common. The severity of claudication varies widely, from mild discomfort to debilitating pain.
  • Leg numbness or weakness
  • Coldness in lower leg or foot, especially when compared with the other side
  • Sores on the toes, feet or legs that won’t heal
  • A 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

If peripheral artery disease progresses, pain may even occur when resting or lying down. It may be severe enough to disrupt sleep.


Some of the tests a Deborah Heart and Lung Center physician may rely on to diagnose peripheral artery disease are:

  • Physical exam
  • Ankle-brachial index (ABI)
  • Ultrasound
  • Angiography
  • Blood tests
Senior with leg cramps.

Do Your Legs Hurt?

In the United States, more than 18 million Americans suffer from Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) which is the hardening of the arteries — also known as “atherosclerosis” — in the limbs, often the legs. Approximately 20 percent of individuals over the age of 60 have PAD, and many of those with PAD do not experience any symptoms, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Peripheral Artery Disease can reduce mobility and increase the risk for heart attack and stroke. If left untreated, PAD can be fatal.

Because vascular disease develops over time, it is important to lead a healthy lifestyle through awareness, prevention and risk reduction.

Treating Peripheral Artery Disease

PAD is a common yet serious disease affecting 8 to 12 million people in the United States—particularly those over age 50. The disease develops when arteries in your legs become clogged with plaque—fatty deposits that limit blood flow to your legs.

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