Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) Facts and Symptoms

Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)

The narrowing of the arteries that causes the blockage of blood flow to the legs and feet.

What is Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)?

Peripheral artery disease is the narrowing of the arteries that carry blood away from the heart. The leading cause of PAD is plaque buildup, called atherosclerosis. It is most common in the legs and feet, but people can also develop it in their arms. It can lead to skin changes, leg pain, wounds that don't heal, and poor muscle perfusion.

Plaque builds on the artery wall, causing the artery to become hardened and more narrow. The plaque is mostly fat and cholesterol. There is a reduction of oxygenated blood flow because of the blockage in the artery.

Many people have peripheral artery disease, but not everybody experiences the symptoms. The symptoms usually develop slowly over a long period of time. People often mistake the symptoms as signs of aging, but it is always a good idea for anyone to see a doctor if they are experiencing any of the symptoms. Continue reading to learn more about this disease.

PAD narrow artery graphic

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Signs & Symptoms

It is possible for somebody to have PAD but not be experiencing any of the symptoms. In fact, up to two out of every five PAD patients do not have leg pain. Intermittent claudication is a pain in the muscles that happens at times of physical activity and subsides with rest. It is one of the most common symptoms of peripheral artery disease.

The American Heart Association indicates these symptoms for PAD:

  • Leg weakness or numbness
  • Muscle cramping in the legs while walking, exercising, or climbing stairs
  • Leg pain that fails to subside after exercise
  • Wounds or sores on the foot or toes that do not heal or heal slowly
  • Discoloration of the skin in the foot
  • Dead tissue (Gangrene)
  • Decreased temperature of leg or foot compared to other parts of your body
  • Slower growth of hair or nails on feet and legs
  • Reduced pulse in legs or feet
Dr. Bhatti Performing PAD Evaluation on Patient's Foot
Couple sitting with PAD risk factors

Risk Factors

The major PAD causes and risk factors are the same as atherosclerosis in the coronary and neck arteries. Patients with peripheral artery disease have an increased risk of coronary artery disease, stroke, or a heart attack. Left untreated, it can also lead to amputation.

You should get screened if you exhibit any of the following risk factors:

  • Diabetes
  • Peripheral Neuropathy
  • High Cholesterol
  • Hypertension
  • Obesity
  • History of Smoking
  • Advanced Age (Over 65)
  • Foot or Leg Wounds or Ulcers
  • One Foot Colder than the Other
  • History of Heart Attack or Stent
  • Family History of PAD

The presence of three or more of these risk factors makes the risk for PAD ten times more likely.

Determine Your Risk Level for PAD

Take the free Modern Vascular PAD risk assessment quiz and get instant results. Find out if you may be at risk and what you can do.

Facts & Statistics

These facts and statistics show the prevalence of peripheral artery disease and the consequences of putting off treatment. It is a disease that affects a significant amount of people — many that do not even know that they have it. Early treatment of PAD is the best way to avoid more severe complications.

  • 8-12 million Americans suffer from PAD— that's more than all types of cancer combined. However, up to 40% do not have leg pain and have been formally diagnosed.
  • Studies show that when treated early, up to 90% of PAD-related amputations can be avoided. Currently, as much as 25% of the diabetic population is at risk of losing some part of their leg or foot due to PAD.
  • While roughly 50% of patients with peripheral artery disease (PAD) are asymptomatic, they are at an increased risk of mortality, myocardial infarction, and stroke.
  • Among those diagnosed with PAD, around 11% have critical limb ischemia (CLI). With CLI, the blood supply to the limb is insufficient to meet the resting metabolic needs of the tissue, causing persistent pain, skin ulceration, and gangrene.
  • 54% of amputations in the United States are a result of peripheral vascular disease.
  • In the United States, the mortality rate one year after major amputation is about 48%.

Regular checkups with your doctor and awareness of the symptoms help spot the dangers of PAD early and prevent symptoms from progressing to the point of amputation.

Peripheral artery disease statistics infographic
Balloon angioplasty graphic
This graphic shows the process of performing balloon angioplasty and placing a stent.

Treatment Options

Peripheral Artery Disease can be treated if diagnosed early and accordingly. There are warning signs and demographic factors that let you know if you may be at risk for PAD. Intermittent leg pain or cramps during routine movements, walking, or climbing stairs could be common signs or symptoms. Smoking, obesity, and diabetes are all demographic factors that put you at greater risk of complications from PAD.

The best method of treatment depends on the patient and severity of the disease. All patients with PAD are advised to maintain a healthy diet and take medications as prescribed. Patients are also recommended to cease smoking and begin a structured walking program, if possible. If the disease cannot be managed with these lifestyle changes alone, other options for treatment are endovascular intervention, which Modern Vascular specializes in, or peripheral artery bypass surgery.

What Types of Doctors Treat PAD?

Vascular surgeons, interventional cardiologists, and interventional radiologists treat peripheral artery disease. All physicians at Modern Vascular are trained to revascularize the arteries below the knee, including the pedal loop which provides blood flow to the feet and toes.

Modern Vascular's physicians provide specialized care:

  • Practice focused exclusively on lower extremity PAD diagnosis and treatment.
  • Expertise in advanced limb salvage techniques targeting the small vessel from the ankle to the toe.
  • Dedicated outpatient vascular testing staff by nationally registered vascular sonographers.
  • Outpatient Cath Lab services in a safe, easily accessible office setting.
  • Center of excellence in the areas of patient care, referral coordination, education, and research.
Dr. Correa reviewing angiogram

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Left untreated, complications may include difficulty walking, wounds that don't heal, gangrene, or even amputation.

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