Peripheral Artery Disease
Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a type of atherosclerosis. It occurs when arteries in the limbs (most often the legs) become narrowed by cholesterol-rich material called plaque. Because PAD interferes with circulation, advanced cases increase the risk for gangrene and amputation. Patients with PAD are also at increased risk for heart attacks and strokes.
Risk Factors of PAD
The main risk factors of PAD include:
- Unhealthy cholesterol and lipid levels
- High blood pressure
- Advancing age
Many people with PAD do not have symptoms. When symptoms do occur, crampy leg pain (intermittent claudication) is the main symptom. This symptom occurs off and on, usually with exercise, and disappears when at rest. When PAD becomes more severe, symptoms can include:
- Pain or tingling in the feet or toes, even at rest
- Weakened calf muscles
- Painful non-bleeding ulcers on the feet or toes that do not heal
Treatment for PAD includes both lifestyle measures and medications that help reduce symptoms and prevent disease progression. These include:
- Smoking cessation
- Regular exercise, which is essential for patients with PAD
- Heart-healthy diet, low in saturated fat, to reduce unhealthy cholesterol levels
- Medications to help control high blood pressure and cholesterol. Other drugs include antiplatelet medications to prevent blood clots.
- In severe cases, surgery may be needed to open blocked blood vessels.
Review Date: 04/05/2010
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.