Peripheral Artery Disease

What is peripheral artery disease?

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a circulatory disorder in which narrowed or blocked arteries reduce blood flow to the limbs, particularly the legs. This results in reduced oxygen and nutrient supply to the tissues of the legs and feet.


Who’s at risk for peripheral artery disease?

PAD is more common in people over 50 years of age, particularly those who smoke or have a history of smoking. Other factors that can increase the risk of developing PAD include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Physical inactivity
  • A family history of PAD, heart disease, or stroke
  • Having a history of peripheral artery disease, heart attack, or stroke


What causes peripheral artery disease?

Peripheral artery disease occurs when fatty deposits, called plaque, build up in the walls of arteries and cause them to narrow or become blocked. This buildup of plaque, known as atherosclerosis, can reduce blood flow and oxygen supply to the limbs.


How does peripheral artery disease start?

Peripheral artery disease can develop gradually over time as plaque accumulates in the arteries. The initial stages of PAD may not produce any symptoms, or they may be mild and easily overlooked. Over time, as the narrowing or blockage of the arteries worsens, symptoms become more noticeable.


What are the symptoms of peripheral artery disease?

The symptoms of peripheral artery disease may include:

  • Leg pain, particularly when walking or climbing stairs
  • Leg cramps
  • Numbness or weakness in the legs
  • Coldness or discoloration of the legs
  • Sores or wounds on the legs or feet that do not heal
  • Decreased hair growth or toenail growth on the affected limb


How is peripheral artery disease diagnosed?

Diagnosis of peripheral artery disease may involve a physical examination, medical history review, and various tests, including:

  • Ankle-brachial index (ABI) test: measures blood pressure in the ankles and arms to assess blood flow in the legs
  • Doppler ultrasound: uses sound waves to visualize blood flow in the arteries
  • Angiography: an imaging test that involves injecting contrast dye into the arteries to visualize blood flow
  • Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA): a noninvasive imaging test that uses magnetic fields and radio waves to create images of the arteries


How can peripheral artery disease be treated?

Treatment for peripheral artery disease may involve lifestyle changes, medication, or surgery, depending on the severity of the condition. Options may include:

  • Lifestyle changes: quitting smoking, exercising regularly, and adopting a healthy diet
  • Medications: blood thinners, cholesterol-lowering medications, and medications to control blood pressure and blood sugar levels
  • Angioplasty and stenting: a minimally invasive procedure that involves inserting a small balloon or stent into the narrowed artery to widen it and improve blood flow
  • Bypass surgery: a surgical procedure that involves redirecting blood flow around the blocked artery


What complications may occur with peripheral artery disease?

Peripheral artery disease can increase the risk of complications, including:

  • Non-healing ulcers and infections
  • Gangrene, or tissue death, which may require amputation
  • Critical limb ischemia, a severe form of PAD that can lead to limb loss
  • Heart attack or stroke


How can I prevent peripheral artery disease?

To reduce the risk of peripheral artery disease, it is important to:

  • Quit smoking or never start
  • Exercise regularly
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Manage underlying conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes
  • Eat a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains


Long-term management of peripheral artery disease

Long-term management of peripheral artery disease involves making lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, regular exercise, and a healthy diet. Medications such as blood thinners, cholesterol-lowering drugs, and high blood pressure medications may also be prescribed. In severe cases, surgery such as angioplasty or bypass surgery may be necessary.


What is recent research saying about peripheral artery disease?

Recent research suggests that certain medications such as cilostazol may be effective in reducing the symptoms of peripheral artery disease. Additionally, the use of stem cell therapy is being explored as a potential treatment for peripheral artery disease.


Where can I go for more information on peripheral artery disease?

You can consult with your doctor or healthcare provider for more information on peripheral artery disease. Additionally, organizations such as the American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute provide resources and information on the condition.