Peripheral artery disease (PAD) refers to diseases of the blood vessels located outside the heart and brain. They are most often caused by a buildup of fatty deposits in the arteries. PAD is also known as peripheral arterial disease or peripheral vascular disease (which includes both arteries and veins).
PAD affects the blood vessels causing them to narrow, therefore restricting the blood flow to the arms, kidneys, stomach, and most commonly, the legs.
An estimated 8.5 million people in the United States have peripheral artery disease, affecting approximately 12-20 percent of Americans over 60.
Peripheral artery disease is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke. PAD is more common in African-Americans than other racial groups; and men are slightly more likely than women to develop PAD. Peripheral vascular disease is also more common in smokers.
Although the condition can have serious consequences, physical activity can substantially improve symptoms.
Fast facts on peripheral artery disease
The best way to prevent PAD is by taking part in physical activity.
The most common cause is a build-up of cholesterol in the arteries.
Peripheral artery disease is a risk factor for more serious cardiac events.
Symptoms of PAD include numbness and pain in the legs.
What are the symptoms of peripheral artery disease?
Symptoms include pain in the calfs and thighs, which may be noticeable when climbing stairs.
Experts say that around half of all people with PAD do not know they have the condition; this is because many individuals have no symptoms. Possible symptoms include:
Hair loss on the feet and legs.
Intermittent claudication – the thigh or calf muscles may feel pain when walking or climbing stairs; some individuals complain of painful hips.
A foot or the lower leg may feel cold.
Numbness in the legs.
Toenails grow slowly.
Sores or ulcers on the legs and feet that take a long time to heal (or never heal).
The skin on the legs becomes shiny or turns pale or bluish.
Difficulty in finding a pulse in the leg or foot.
Erectile dysfunction (impotence in men, problems achieving or sustaining an erection).
Causes of peripheral artery disease
The most common cause of PAD is atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a gradual process in which a fatty material builds up inside the arteries.
Less common causes of peripheral artery disease are blood clots in the arteries, injury to the limbs, and unusual anatomy of the muscles and ligaments.
Risk factors that contribute to PAD are diabetes, smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, increasing age, high cholesterol, family history of heart disease, and excess levels of C-reactive protein or homocysteine.
How is peripheral artery disease diagnosed?
There are several ways PAD can be diagnosed, if the disease is suspected, the doctor will initially check the patient’s legs.