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Types, Causes and Risk Factors of Peripheral Artery Disease

July 26, 2018

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a progressive circulation disorder that results in the narrowing of arteries in any blood vessel outside of the heart. Because of this narrowing, the vessels can’t deliver enough oxygen and nutrients to the body. PAD, also known as peripheral vascular disease (PVD), can occur in the stomach, arms and head, but most commonly occurs in arteries in the pelvis and legs. 

PAD symptoms can be difficult to recognize. You may have no symptoms or mistake symptoms such as leg cramping, pain or tiredness when walking for other causes—especially since the symptoms go away with rest, only to return when you’re active again.

Symptoms of PAD

  • Cramping, pain and tiredness with walking
  • Sores on lower extremities that won’t heal
  • Toes that look pale, discolored or blue
  • Leg or foot pain that disturbs your sleep, including leg cramps at night
  • Leg numbness
  • Coldness in your lower leg or foot
  • Shiny skin on legs, or loss of hair on your feet and lower legs
  • Thick yellow toenails that are not growing
  • Erectile dysfunction in men

It’s important to pay attention to these symptoms because if untreated, you can have a higher risk of coronary artery disease, heart attack and stroke.

It is very common that your first symptom could be a development of a foot sore or wound that has not been healing, especially in diabetics. Delay in diagnosis and treatment of PAD could result in amputation.

It’s important to pay attention to these symptoms because if untreated, you can have a higher risk of coronary artery disease, heart attack and stroke.

Causes of PAD

PAD occurs when plaque builds up on the inside of walls of the arteries that carry blood from the heart to the legs and feet. This is called atherosclerosis and is the most common cause of PAD.

Risk Factors

The risk of developing PAD increases with age — 1 in 20 Americans over the age of 50 has PAD.

If you have coronary artery disease, you have a greater chance of having PAD. A family history of PAD, cardiovascular disease or stroke also increases your chances. Other risk factors include:

  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • High blood pressure


Your doctor can diagnose PAD through a variety of tests, including a physical exam, a blood pressure test, ultrasound, blood tests or angiography. Once PAD has been diagnosed, the goal is to reduce symptoms and decrease the atherosclerosis in the vessels.

Stopping smoking and starting a supervised exercise program are two key ways to reduce the effect of PAD. Other lifestyle changes, such as following a healthy eating plan to reduce cholesterol and weight, also can help. Your doctor may recommend medications to lower cholesterol, reduce high blood pressure or prevent blood clots. In some cases, surgery or an angioplasty procedure may be needed to address blockage in a blood vessel.

PAD can be a subtle disease, but has serious consequences. If you experience any of the symptoms, talk with your doctor.

Live Life Well

The Interventional and Peripheral Vascular Program at the Orlando Health Heart & Vascular Institute is home to a group of skilled peripheral vascular surgeons and interventional cardiologists who treat specific conditions that affect the circulatory system. With your health and comfort as our top priority, our specialists find the best solution to ease your discomfort and restore your quality of life so you can live life well.

Learn More

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