Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is damage or disease of the arteries outside of the heart and brain. Blood carries oxygen and nutrients to organs and tissues. Problems with the arteries can affect the health of tissue in the arms, legs, and body core.

If PAD isn't treated, it can lead to problems like tissue death, infection, and amputation. Things that cause PAD can also harm blood vessels in the heart and brain. This means people with PAD are at risk for heart attack and stroke.

PAD Causes

Atherosclerosis is the most common cause of PAD. This is a build up of plaque on the walls of the vessels. Plaque is a waxy matter made of fats and other matter in the blood. It sticks to the walls. It can also be made of scar tissue or fibers used to fix damage to the walls. Overtime, plaque grows by trapping other matter in the blood, such as bad cholesterol and blood sugar. As the it grows, the blood vessel gets narrow and makes it harder for blood to flow.

Things that can lead to atherosclerosis are:

  • Smoking —can bother vessel walls and make deposits on them
  • High cholesterol —bad cholesterol can stick to and bother the walls of the vessels
  • High blood pressure —causes strong blood flow that can injure the walls of vessels
  • Diabetes —too much sugar in the blood can lead to plaque build up
  • Radiation therapy


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Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) of lower extremities. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated August 23, 2018. Accessed August 29, 2018.

What is peripheral arterial disease? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: Accessed August 29, 2018.

Last reviewed May 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Daniel A. Ostrovsky, MD  Last Updated: 8/29/2018