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Peripheral artery disease - legs

  • Definition

    Peripheral artery disease is a condition of the blood vessels that leads to narrowing and hardening of the arteries that supply the legs and feet.

    The narrowing of the blood vessels leads to decreased blood flow, which can injure nerves and other tissues.

    Alternative Names

    Peripheral vascular disease; PVD; PAD; Arteriosclerosis obliterans; Blockage of leg arteries; Claudication; Intermittent claudication; Vaso-occlusive disease of the legs; Arterial insufficiency of the legs; Recurrent leg pain and cramping; Calf pain with exercise

    Causes, incidence, and risk factors

    Peripheral artery disease is caused by arteriosclerosis, or "hardening of the arteries." This problem occurs when fatty material (plaque) builds up on the walls of your arteries. This causes the arteries to become narrower. The walls of the arteries also become stiffer and cannot widen (dilate) to allow greater blood flow when needed.

    As a result, when the muscles of your legs are working harder (such as during exercise or walking) they cannot get enough blood and oxygen. Eventually, there may not be enough blood and oxygen, even when the muscles are resting.

    Peripheral artery disease is a common disorder that usually affects men over age 50. People are at higher risk if they have a history of:

    • Abnormal cholesterol
    • Diabetes
    • Heart disease (coronary artery disease)
    • High blood pressure (hypertension)
    • Kidney disease involving hemodialysis
    • Smoking
    • Stroke (cerebrovascular disease)