What is it?
Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a narrowing of arteries in other parts of the body—most commonly in the arteries of the legs. PAD is similar to coronary artery disease (CAD). Both PAD and CAD are caused by atherosclerosis, which narrows and blocks arteries.
Doctors use peripheral angiograms to evaluate blood flow in the arteries leading to your legs or, less frequently, to your arms. The procedure takes pictures of the arteries in your extremities and reveals any narrowed or blocked arteries.
The angiogram helps your doctor decide if a surgical procedure such as peripheral angioplasty is needed to open the blocked arteries. Bypass surgery, which reroutes blood around the blocked arteries, is another treatment option.
Atherosclerosis and PAD
Atherosclerosis is a disease in which plaque builds up on the wall of an artery. Plaque formation—a waxy buildup of cholesterol, cells, and other substances—can grow large enough to significantly reduce blood flow. When plaque becomes brittle or inflamed it may rupture. This can trigger the formation of a blood clot that further narrows the artery or blocks it entirely.
If the blockage remains in the peripheral arteries in the legs, it can cause pain, changes in skin color, sores or ulcers and difficulty walking. Total loss of circulation to the legs and feet can cause gangrene, which may require amputation.
The most common symptoms of PAD are cramping, pain, or tiredness in the legs or hips while walking or climbing stairs. Typically, this pain goes away with rest and returns when you walk again. Many people mistake the symptoms of PAD for something else. Left untreated, PAD can lead to gangrene and amputation.
Added risks for PAD
- Smokers have an especially high risk for PAD.
- Diabetics have an especially high risk for PAD.
- People with high blood pressure or high cholesterol are at risk for PAD.
- PAD increases your risk of heart attack or stroke.
- Your risk of developing PAD increases with age.
The good news for PAD patients
- PAD is easily diagnosed in a simple, painless way.
- Most cases of PAD can be managed with lifestyle changes and medication.
- You can take control by following the recommendations of your doctor.