Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) happens when there is a narrowing of the blood vessels outside of your heart. The cause of PAD is atherosclerosis. This happens when plaque builds up on the walls of the arteries that supply blood to the arms and legs. Plaque is a substance made up of fat and cholesterol. It causes the arteries to narrow or become blocked. This can reduce or stop blood flow, usually to the legs. If severe enough, blocked blood flow can cause tissue death and can sometimes lead to amputation of the foot or leg.
The main risk factor for PAD is smoking. Other risk factors include older age and diseases like diabetes, high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
Many people who have PAD don't have any symptoms. If you have symptoms, they may include
- Pain, numbness, achiness, or heaviness in the leg muscles. This happens when walking or climbing stairs.
- Weak or absent pulses in the legs or feet
- Sores or wounds on the toes, feet, or legs that heal slowly, poorly, or not at all
- A pale or bluish color to the skin
- A lower temperature in one leg than the other leg
- Poor nail growth on the toes and decreased hair growth on the legs
- Erectile dysfunction, especially among men who have diabetes
PAD can increase your risk of heart attack, stroke, and transient ischemic attack.
Doctors diagnose PAD with a physical exam and heart and imaging tests. Treatments include lifestyle changes, medicines, and sometimes surgery. Lifestyle changes include dietary changes, exercise, and efforts to lower high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure.
NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute