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What is PAD?

Peripheral arterial disease (PAD)

PAD describes blocked arteries outside of the heart. It is a buildup of plaque in the walls of arteries, which limits or stops the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your limbs.

Could PAD be the cause of your discomfort? 

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How does PAD impact health?

If blood cannot reach your feet, it may cause pain while walking, and cause damage to the skin and muscles in your legs and feet. PAD also puts you at greater risk of stroke or heart attack.1,2

  1. Superficial femoral artery
  2. Popliteal artery
  3. Tibial artery

Illustration of the lower legs showing common locations for peripheral arterial disease using blue and red blood vessels

Symptoms and Risk Factors

The following symptoms are often ignored or assumed to be part of the aging process3-5:

  • Cramping or pain in legs when active
  • Numbness, tingling, or burning in your legs
  • A cold foot that is pale or changes color
  • A sore or ulcer on your foot that causes concern

These risk factors increase the chance you could have or develop PAD:

  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • History of heart attack or stroke
  • History of smoking
  • Age over 50

PAD statistics 

  • 12 million people in the United States have PAD6
  • Up to 50% have no recognized symptoms and may progress right to severe disease1,7
  • About 95% have at least one other chronic disease7
  • About 50% remain untreated and risk amputation8

What to Do if You Are at Risk

Take action

Have your doctor check your feet for signs of PAD. If PAD is suspected, you may be referred to a specialist for further assessment.

Your doctor may look for:

  • Skin changes such as wounds, sores, or discoloration
  • Temperature variation in one leg compared to the other
  • Pulse in your legs and feet to check for sufficient blood flow
  • Ankle-brachial index (ABI), comparing blood pressure in the arm and leg
  • Doppler ultrasound to check for narrowed or blocked arteries

How PAD is treated

The goal with PAD treatment is to return the flow of blood to the legs and feet. Your doctor will determine what treatment options are best for you. 

Illustration of red artery with yellow plaque caused by peripheral arterial disease

Artery before treatment

Illustration of red artery that has been treated to remove yellow plaque caused by peripheral arterial disease

Artery after treatment

Treatments can include:

Glossary of Related Terms

  • Amputation: Removal of a diseased portion of the body, such as a foot or leg.
  • Ankle-brachial index (ABI): A measurement of the difference in the blood pressure of the arm compared to the ankle. It is a way to measure the amount of blood flow to a limb.
  • Arteries: Blood vessels that carry blood away from the heart and through the body.
  • Diagnosis: Identifying a disease by looking at its signs and symptoms.
  • Doppler ultrasound: Ultrasound that measures blood flow in arteries and veins. Ultrasound uses sound and vibration to create an image.
  • Endovascular treatment: A procedure done through a catheter (a small tube) placed in a blood vessel. Different devices are used to treat or remove plaque (a fatty deposit) or expand the blood vessel, improving blood flow to the limb.
  • Peripheral arterial disease (PAD): A term used to describe blocked arteries outside of the heart. It is a buildup of plaque in the walls of arteries, which limits or stops the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your limbs.
  • Surgical bypass: A surgical procedure using healthy blood vessels or grafts to bypass — or go around — the blocked artery and improve blood flow to a limb.

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References

1

Hirsch AT, Murphy TP, Lovell MB, et al. Gaps in public knowledge of peripheral arterial disease: the first national PAD public awareness survey. Circulation. October 30, 2007;116(18)2086-2094.

2

Hussein AA, Uno K, Wolski K, et al. Peripheral arterial disease and progression of coronary atherosclerosis. J Am Coll Cardiol. March 8, 2011;57(10):1220-1225.

3

Falluji N, Mukherjee D. Critical and acute limb ischemia: an overview. Angiology. February 2014;65(2):137-146.

4

Mayo Clinic. Peripheral artery disease. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/peripheral-artery-disease/symptoms-causes/dxc-20167421. Accessed August 03, 2021.

5

McDermott MM, Guralnik JM, Ferrucci L, et al. Asymptomatic peripheral arterial disease is associated with more adverse lower extremity characteristics than intermittent claudication. Circulation. May 13, 2008;117(19):2484-2491.

6

Goodney PP, Tarulli M, Faerber AE, Schanzer A, Zwolak RM. Fifteen-year trends in lower limb amputation, revascularization, and preventive measures among medicare patients. JAMA Surg. January 2015;150(1):84-86.

7

Nehler MR, Duval S, Diao L, et al. Epidemiology of peripheral arterial disease and critical limb ischemia in an insured national population. J Vasc Surg. September 2014;60(3):686-695.e2.

8

Goodney PP, Travis LL, Nallamothu BK, et al. Variation in the use of lower extremity vascular procedures for critical limb ischemia. Circ Cardiovasc Qual Outcomes. January 2012;5(1):94-102.