Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a change in blood flow to your arms and legs. It is caused by a narrowing of blood vessels that slows blood flow. It can cause problems such as leg pain when walking.
PAD is most often caused by a narrowing of blood vessels. The narrowing is often caused by a buildup of plaque called atherosclerosis. The build up occurs over long periods of time and is increased with:
This buildup happens in blood vessels all over the body. It may mean there is an increased risk of heart disease or stroke. PAD may be first sign of atherosclerosis.
Blood clots and inflammation can also narrow blood vessels. These may be caused by medical issues or treatment.
PAD is more common in men and in people over 50 years of age. Other factors that may increase your chances of PAD:
Symptoms of PAD will depend on the area that is most affected. Common symptoms include:
You will be asked about your symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done.
During the exam, your doctor may do the following:
If the doctor suspects a change in blood flow, other tests may be done to confirm change or look for causes. Images of blood vessels can be done with:
Your heart activity may need to be tested. This can be done with an ECG.
Early treatment can slow or stop the disease. Treatment options include the following:
Certain lifestyle changes can improve the health of your heart and blood vessels. Steps that may help you slow or even reverse PAD include:
Medications that may help improve blood flow include:
Pain medication may also be needed to help manage discomfort.
If blood flow is very poor, a procedure may be needed to quickly increase blood flow. Options include:
Surgery may be needed to open arteries that are severely blocked. Options include:
A heart healthy lifestyle can decrease the risk of PAD. General steps include:
American Heart Association
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Canadian Society for Vascular Surgery
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
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Peripheral artery disease. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/peripheral-artery-disease. Accessed January 26, 2021.
Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) of lower extremities. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114200/Peripheral-arterial-disease-PAD-of-lower-extremities. Accessed January 26, 2021.
Prevention and treatment of PAD. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/VascularHealth/PeripheralArteryDisease/Prevention-and-Treatment-of-PAD_UCM_301308_Article.jsp#.WphMNWrwZQI. Accessed January 26, 2021.
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Last reviewed November 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review BoardNicole S. Meregian, PA Last Updated: 1/26/2021