Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a circulatory condition that affects the arteries to the legs, arms, stomach, and head. PAD is most often caused by atherosclerosis, a buildup of fatty deposits and plaque in the artery walls. Complications arise when plaque narrows the arteries and reduces blood flow to the extremities. If you have diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or are a smoker, you are at an increased risk for peripheral artery disease.
Although PAD can affect any peripheral extremity, it is most common in arteries to the legs. The reduced blood flow can cause pain in the hips and legs, and in extreme cases can even result in gangrene and amputation of the leg.
Some people with PAD experience mild symptoms, others have none at all.
For those who do show symptoms, the most common include:
- Leg pain (typically in the calf) when walking or climbing stairs
- Leg numbness or weakness
- Coldness in the lower leg or foot
- Wounds on the legs, feet, or toes that heal very slowly or do not heal at all
- A change in leg color
There are several ways to diagnose PAD. Your doctor will typically begin with a physical exam to check for weak pulses in the legs. If PAD is suspected, your physician may want to order additional testing, such as an ultrasound, CT scan, or another painless, non-invasive procedure.
If you are diagnosed with peripheral artery disease, you can take control of your health by leading a heart-healthy lifestyle and following the recommendations of your doctor. The condition has common symptoms, but some people ignore their symptoms and let the disease go undiagnosed and untreated. Learn the facts, consult your healthcare professional, and take control of your risk factors. You have the power to improve your heart health.