Peripheral Artery Disease

Peripheral artery disease (also called peripheral arterial disease) is a common circulatory problem in which narrowed arteries reduce blood flow to your limbs.

When you develop peripheral artery disease (PAD), your legs or arms — usually your legs — don’t receive enough blood flow to keep up with demand. This may cause symptoms, such as leg pain when walking (claudication).

Peripheral artery disease is also likely to be a sign of a buildup of fatty deposits in your arteries (atherosclerosis). This condition may narrow your arteries and reduce blood flow to your legs and, occasionally, your arms.

You often can successfully treat peripheral artery disease by exercising, eating a healthy diet and quitting tobacco in any form.

Symptoms

While many people with peripheral artery disease have mild or no symptoms, some people have leg pain when walking (claudication).

Claudication symptoms include muscle pain or cramping in your legs or arms that’s triggered by activity, such as walking, but disappears after a few minutes of rest. The location of the pain depends on the location of the clogged or narrowed artery. Calf pain is the most common location.

The severity of claudication varies widely, from mild discomfort to debilitating pain. Severe claudication can make it hard for you to walk or do other types of physical activity.

Peripheral artery disease signs and symptoms include:

  • Painful cramping in one or both of your hips, thighs or calf muscles after certain activities, such as walking or climbing stairs
  • Leg numbness or weakness
  • Coldness in your lower leg or foot, especially when compared with the other side
  • Sores on your toes, feet or legs that won’t heal
  • A change in the color of your legs
  • Hair loss or slower hair growth on your feet and legs
  • Slower growth of your toenails
  • Shiny skin on your legs
  • No pulse or a weak pulse in your legs or feet
  • Erectile dysfunction in men

Pain when using your arms, such as aching and cramping when knitting, writing or doing other manual tasks

If peripheral artery disease progresses, pain may even occur when you’re at rest or when you’re lying down. It may be intense enough to disrupt sleep. Hanging your legs over the edge of your bed or walking around your room may temporarily relieve the pain.

Causes

Peripheral artery disease is often caused by atherosclerosis. In atherosclerosis, fatty deposits build up on your artery walls and reduce blood flow.

Although discussions of atherosclerosis usually focus on the heart, the disease can and usually does affect arteries throughout your body. When it occurs in the arteries supplying blood to your limbs, it causes peripheral artery disease.

Less commonly, the cause of peripheral artery disease may be blood vessel inflammation, injury to your limbs, unusual anatomy of your ligaments or muscles, or radiation exposure.

Risk Factors

Factors that increase your risk of developing peripheral artery disease include:

  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity (a body mass index over 30)
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Increasing age, especially after age 65 or after 50 if you have risk factors for atherosclerosis
  • A family history of peripheral artery disease, heart disease or stroke
  • High levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that helps your body make protein and to build and maintain tissue

People who smoke or have diabetes have the greatest risk of developing peripheral artery disease due to reduced blood flow.

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