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Peripheral artery disease - legs

  • 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



    • Balance exercise with rest. Walk or do another activity to the point of pain and alternate it with rest periods. Over time, your circulation may improve as new, small (collateral) blood vessels form. Always talk to the doctor before starting an exercise program.
    • Stop smoking. Smoking tightens arteries, decreases the blood's ability to carry oxygen, and increases the risk of forming clots (thrombi and emboli).
    • Take care of your feet, especially if you also have diabetes. Wear shoes that fit properly. Pay attention to any cuts, scrapes, or injuries, and see your doctor right away. The tissues heal slowly and are prone to infection when there is decreased circulation. See: Diabetes foot care for more information.
    • Make sure your blood pressure is well controlled.
    • Reduce your weight, if you are overweight.
    • If your cholesterol is high, eat a low-cholesterol and low-fat diet. See: Heart-healthy diet.
    • Monitor your blood sugar levels if you have diabetes, and keep them under control.

    Medications may be needed to control the disorder, including:

    • Aspirin or a medicine called clopidogrel (Plavix), which keeps your blood from forming clots in your arteries. Do NOT stop taking these medications without first talking with your doctor.
    • Cilostazol, a medication to enlarge (dilate) the affected artery or arteries for moderate-to-severe cases that are not candidates for surgery
    • Medicine to help lower your cholesterol
    • Pain relievers

    If you are taking medicines for high blood pressure or diabetes, take them as your doctor has prescribed.

    Surgery may be performed if the condition is severe and is affecting your ability to work or do important activities, or you are having pain at rest. Options are:

    • Angioplasty and stent placement of the peripheral arteries (this is similar to the technique used to open the coronary arteries, but it is performed on the blood vessels of the affected leg)
    • Peripheral artery bypass surgery of the leg

    Some people with peripheral artery disease may need to have the limb removed (amputated). See: Leg or foot amputation.

    Expectations (prognosis)

    You can usually control peripheral artery disease of the legs without surgery. Surgery provides good symptom relief in severe cases.

    For complications, the affected leg or foot may need to be amputated.

    • Blood clots or emboli that block off small arteries
    • Coronary artery disease
    • Impotence
    • Open sores (ischemic ulcers) on the lower legs
    • Tissue death (gangrene) -- see gas gangrene

    Calling your health care provider

    Call your health care provider if you have:

    • A leg or foot that becomes cool to the touch, pale, blue, or numb
    • Chest pain or shortness of breath with leg pain
    • Leg pain that does not go away, even when you are not walking or moving (called rest pain)
    • Legs that are red, hot, or swollen
    • New sores/ulcers
    • Signs of infection (fever, redness, general ill feeling)
    • Symptoms of arteriosclerosis of the extremities