Peripheral Artery 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.

Other Names for Peripheral Artery 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

(Watch the video to learn more about peripheral artery disease (P.A.D.).To enlarge the video, click the brackets in the lower right-hand corner. To reduce the video, press the Escape (Esc) button on your keyboard.)

Why Is P.A.D. Dangerous?

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.

Over time, the plaque that builds up 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.

If you have P.A.D., your risk of coronary heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and transient ischemic attack ("mini-stroke") increases.

Smoking: The Main Risk Factor

Smoking is the main risk factor for P.A.D. If you smoke or have a history of smoking, your risk of P.A.D. increases. Other factors, such as age and having certain diseases or conditions, also increase your risk of P.A.D.

If you have leg pain when you walk or climb stairs, talk with your doctor. Sometimes older people think that leg pain is just a symptom of aging. However, the cause of the pain could be P.A.D. Tell your doctor if you're feeling pain in your legs and discuss whether you should be tested for P.A.D.

P.A.D. Is Treatable

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. P.A.D. treatment may slow or stop disease progress and reduce the risk of complications. Treatments include lifestyle changes, medicines, and surgery or procedures.