Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) 

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) occurs when the arteries that carry blood to the limbs are narrowed or blocked. This is usually due to a buildup of a fatty substance called plaque in the walls of the arteries.

PAD most often affects the arteries in the legs. When these arteries are narrowed or blocked, blood flow to the legs is reduced. This can cause leg and foot pain and other symptoms. If severe enough, reduced blood flow to the legs can lead to tissue death (gangrene) and the loss of a toe, foot, or leg. Having PAD also makes it more likely that arteries in other body areas are blocked. For instance, arteries that carry blood to the heart or brain may be affected. This raises the chances of heart attack and stroke.

Risk factors

Certain factors can make PAD more likely. They include:

  • Smoking

  • Diabetes

  • High blood pressure

  • Unhealthy cholesterol levels

  • Obesity

  • Inactive lifestyle

  • Older age

  • Family history of PAD

Symptoms

Many people with PAD have no symptoms. If symptoms do occur, they can include:

  • Pain in the muscles of the calves, thighs, or hips that gets worse with activity and better with rest (intermittent claudication)

  • Achy, tired, or heavy feeling in the legs

  • Weakness, numbness, tingling, or loss of feeling in the legs

  • Changes in skin color of the legs

  • Sores on the legs and feet

  • Cold leg, feet, or toes

  • Pain the feet or toes even when lying down (rest pain)

Home care

PAD is a chronic (lifelong) condition. Treatment is focused on managing your condition and lowering your health risks. This may include doing the following:

  • If you smoke, quit. This helps prevent further damage to your arteries and lowers your health risks. Ask your provider about medicines or products that can help you quit smoking. Also consider joining a stop-smoking program or support group.

  • Be more active. This helps you lose weight and manage problems such as high blood pressure and unhealthy cholesterol levels. Start a walking program if advised to by your provider. Your provider may also help you form a safe exercise program that is right for your needs.

  • Make healthy eating changes. This includes eating less fat, salt, and sugar.

  • Take medicines for high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol levels, and diabetes as directed.

  • Have your blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked as often as directed.

  • If you have diabetes, try to keep your blood sugar well controlled. Test your blood sugar as directed.

  • If you are overweight, talk to your provider about a weight-loss plan.

  • Watch for cuts, scrapes, or open sores on your feet. Poor blood flow to the feet may slow healing and increase the risk of infection from these problems. 

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised. If imaging tests such as ultrasound were done, they will be reviewed by a doctor. You will be told the results and any new findings that may affect your care.

When to seek medical advice 

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Sudden severe pain in the legs or feet

  • Sudden cold, pale or blue color in the legs or feet

  • Weakness or numbness in the legs or feet that worsens

  • Any sore or wound in the legs or feet that won’t heal

  • Weak pulse in your legs or feet

Know the signs of heart attack and stroke

People with PAD are at high risk for heart attack and stroke. Knowing the signs of these problems can help you protect your health and get help when you need it. Call 911 right away if you have any of the following:

  • Chest discomfort, such as pain, aching, tightness, or pressure that lasts more than a few minutes, or that comes and goes

  • Pain or discomfort in the arms, back, shoulders, neck, or jaw

  • Shortness of breath

  • Sweating (often a cold, clammy sweat)

  • Nausea

  • Lightheadedness

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arms, or legs, especially on one side

  • Sudden confusion or trouble speaking or understanding

  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes

  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, or loss of balance

  • Sudden, severe headache with no known cause

© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
Powered by Krames Patient Education - A Product of StayWell