What You Should Know About Peripheral Artery Disease

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What is peripheral artery disease (P.A.D.)?

Peripheral arterial disease—also known as P.A.D.—is a common, yet serious, disease. It occurs when extra cholesterol and other fats circulating in the blood collect in the walls of the arteries that supply blood to your limbs. This buildup—called plaque— narrows your arteries, often reducing or blocking the flow of blood.

Which parts of the body does P.A.D. normally affect?

According to the NIH, P.A.D. is most commonly seen in the legs, but also can be present in the arteries that carry blood from your heart to your head, arms, kidneys, and stomach. Nearly everyone who has P.A.D.—even those who do not have leg symptoms—suffers from an inability to walk as fast or as far as they could before P.A.D.

What causes P.A.D.?

The cause of plaque buildup in the limbs is unknown in most cases. However, there are some conditions and habits that raise your chance of developing P.A.D., like age, diabetes, smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, genetics, and race. 

What are the signs and symptoms of P.A.D.?

The typical signs and symptoms of this disease include leg cramping, pain in the legs and feet during sleep, unhealing sores or wounds on the feet, skin discoloration on the feet, poor nail growth, and a difference of temperature from one leg to the other. Sometimes, though, none of these symptoms are present.

How is P.A.D. diagnosed?

When checking you for P.A.D., your health care provider may perform a simple noninvasive test called an ankle-brachial index (ABI). Painless and easy, the ABI compares the blood pressure readings in your ankles with the blood pressure readings in your arms. a Doppler ultrasound test to see whether a specific artery is open or blocked. This test uses sound waves to measure the blood flow in the veins and arteries in your arms and legs. 

How is P.A.D. treated?

The overall goals for treating P.A.D. are to reduce any symptoms, improve quality of life and mobility, and prevent heart attack, stroke, and amputation. There are three main approaches to treating P.A.D.: making lifestyle changes; taking medication; and in some cases, having a special procedure or surgery, like angioplasty.