Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) is a narrowing of arteries outside of the heart and brain, in the stomach, arms and most commonly the legs. Similar to coronary artery disease (CAD), PAD is caused by atherosclerosis, when plaque builds up in the wall of the artery. Plaque build-up can grow large enough to significantly reduce blood flow through an artery. When plaque becomes brittle or inflamed, it may rupture, triggering a blood clot to form that may either further narrow the artery or completely block it. 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 and loss of a limb. If the blockage occurs in a carotid artery, it can cause a stroke.
Most people will experience the common symptoms of PAD, while some may never experience signs at all. The signs of PAD are often overlooked or thought to be caused by something else, leaving it to go undiagnosed. The most common symptoms of PAD involving the lower extremities are cramping and pain or tiredness in the leg or hip muscles while walking or climbing stairs. Typically, this pain goes away with rest and returns when you walk again.
Factors that increase your risk for developing PAD include:
• High blood pressure.
• High cholesterol.
Your risk for PAD also increases as you age. People with peripheral arterial disease have a higher risk of coronary artery disease, heart attack or stroke, which is why it’s important to seek treatment if you experience symptoms. As with any disease, the more you understand, the more likely you’ll be able to help your health care professional make an early diagnosis and start treatment. Fortunately, once PAD is suspected, it is easily diagnosed. Treatment may involve management through lifestyle changes and medication, or minimally invasive strategies such as balloon angioplasty, stenting and atherectomy.
Cone Health has an exceptional network of cardiologists, vascular surgeons and related health care providers dedicated to treating PAD, improving patients’ quality of life and helping prevent heart attack, stroke and amputation.