We know: Facts on Peripheral Artery Disease

What is Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)?

Also known Peripheral Vascular Disease (PVD), PAD is a disease of the blood vessels characterized by narrowing and hardening of the arteries that supply the legs and feet. This causes a decrease in blood flow that can injure nerves and other tissues.

What are the causes of Peripheral Artery Disease?

Arteriosclerosis, or "hardening of the arteries," commonly shows its effects first in the legs and feet. The narrowing of the arteries may progress to total closure (occlusion) of the vessel. The vessel walls become less elastic and cannot dilate to allow greater blood flow when needed (such as during exercise). Calcium deposits in the walls of the arteries contribute to the narrowing and stiffness. The effects of these deposits may be seen on ordinary X-rays

What are the symptoms of Peripheral Artery Disease?

Often, symptoms affect one limb. If arteriosclerosis exists in both limbs, the intensity is usually different in each.

  • Leg pain (intermittent claudication) ,occurs with exercise (such as walking) but is relieved with rest
  • Numbness of the legs or feet at rest
  • Cold legs or feet
  • Muscle pain in the thighs, calves, or feet
  • Loss of hair on the legs and/or feet
  • Change of color of the legs
  • Paleness or blueness (cyanosis)
  • Pulse, weak or absent in the limb
  • Walking/gait abnormalities

Who does Peripheral Artery Disease affect?

This is a common disorder, usually affecting men over 50 years old. People are at higher risk if they have a personal or family history of coronary artery disease (heart disease) or cerebrovascular disease (stroke), diabetes, smoking, hypertension (high blood pressure), or kidney disease involving hemodialysis.

What treatments are available for Peripheral Artery Disease?

  • Treatment focuses on the relief of symptoms and self-care to improve circulation.
  • Medications may be required to control the disorder, including pain relievers, blood thinners, and medications to enlarge or dilate the affected artery(ies)
  • Surgery is usually performed only on severe cases where the ability to work or pursue essential activities is affected.
  • Alternatives to surgery may include treatments such as balloon angioplasty, sometimes followed by stent implantation, laser treatment, or other treatments.
  • Always consult a doctor before taking any medication.


  • Exercise must be balanced with rest. Walking or other activity, performed to the point of pain and alternated with rest periods, is often recommended. Over time, circulation improves because of the development of collateral (new, small) blood vessels.
  • Stop smoking! Smoking constricts arteries, decreases the blood's ability to carry oxygen and increases the risk of forming clots (thrombi and emboli).
  • Foot care is particularly important if diabetes is also present. Wear shoes that fit properly. Pay attention to any cuts, scrapes or injury -- the tissues heal slowly when there is decreased circulation and are prone to infection.
  • If cholesterol is high, change the diet to a low-cholesterol and low-fat diet.

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