Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is damage or disease of the arteries outside of the heart and brain. Blood delivers oxygen and nutrients to hardworking organs and tissues through all of the body's arteries. Injuries to the arteries can interrupt this blood flow, and impair delivery of nutrients and oxygen. Impaired blood flow can affect the health of tissue in the arms, legs, and body core. Severe interruptions in blood flow can cause functional problems, such as cramping or fatigue with minor activity.
Prolonged, untreated PAD can lead to serious complications such as death of affected tissue, serious infection, and amputation. Factors that cause PAD can also affect blood vessels in heart and brain. This means people with PAD also have an increased risk of heart attack or stroke.
Atherosclerosis is the most common cause of PAD. Atherosclerosis is the gradual build up of a plaque, on the walls of the blood vessels. This plaque is a waxy substance made of fats and other material in the blood that stick to the walls. It can also be made of scar tissue or fibers that were needed to repair damage to blood vessel walls. Overtime this plaque grows by trapping other substances in the blood. Substances in the blood like LDL "bad" cholesterol and glucose are more easily trapped in the formed plaque. As the plaque growth continues, the blood vessel opening will narrow making blood flow more difficult.
Factors that can damage blood vessels and contribute to atherosclerosis include:
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What causes peripheral arterial disease? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/pad/causes.html. Updated June 2, 2014. Accessed June 20, 2014.
What is peripheral arterial disease? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/pad. Updated June 2, 2014. Accessed June 20, 2014.
Last reviewed May 2015 by Michael J. Fucci, DO, FACC Last Updated: 5/20/2015