Peripheral Arterial Disease (P.A.D.)

What is P.A.D.?

Arteries Clogged With Plaque

Peripheral arterial disease (P.A.D.) is a disease in which plaque (plak) builds up in the arteries that carry blood to your head, organs, and limbs. Plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium, fibrous tissue, and other substances in the blood.

When plaque builds up in the body's arteries, the condition is called atherosclerosis (ATH-er-o-skler-O-sis). Over time, plaque can harden and narrow the arteries. This limits the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your organs and other parts of your body.

P.A.D. usually affects the arteries in the legs, but it can also affect the arteries that carry blood from your heart to your head, arms, kidneys, and stomach.

Blocked blood flow to your legs can cause pain and numbness. It also can raise your risk of getting an infection in the affected limbs. Your body may have a hard time fighting the infection.

Why is P.A.D. Dangerous?

Over time, the plaque may crack and cause blood clots to form. These blood clots can block arteries, causing pain, numbness, inflammation, and even permanent tissue damage in the affected part of the body. If severe enough, blocked blood flow can cause tissue death (also called gangrene.) In very serious cases, this can lead to leg amputation.

P.A.D. currently affects 8 million to 12 million Americans. About 1 in every 20 Americans over the age of 50 has P.A.D. African Americans are more than twice as likely as Caucasians to have P.A.D.

If you have P.A.D., your risk of coronary artery disease, heart attack, stroke, and transient ischemic attack ("mini-stroke") is much higher than in people without P.A.D. If you have coronary artery disease, you have a 1 in 3 chance of having blocked leg arteries.

Although P.A.D. is serious, it is treatable. If you have the disease, it's important to see your doctor regularly and treat the underlying atherosclerosis.

Other Names for Peripheral Arterial Disease

  • Atherosclerotic peripheral arterial disease
  • Claudication (klaw-dih-KA-shen)
  • Hardening of the arteries
  • Leg cramps from poor circulation
  • Peripheral vascular disease
  • Poor circulation
  • Vascular disease