Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a progressive disorder that can worsen if left untreated. PAD is caused by atherosclerosis, the term used to describe plaque buildup in the arteries. When blood flow to the legs, feet, and ankles becomes restricted by atherosclerosis, there is an increased risk of developing serious complications, including tissue death and limb amputation.
If you believe that you or a family member or friend has PAD, our trusted vascular doctors can accurately diagnose PAD and provide a personalized treatment plan.
What Are the Risk Factors for PAD?
According to the latest data from the CDC, about 6.5 million people in the United States over the age of 40 have PAD.1 Risk factors for PAD include smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, advanced age, and diabetes. PAD can put you at risk of developing coronary artery disease and cerebrovascular disease, potentially leading to heart attack or stroke.
One of the most widely recognized symptoms of peripheral artery disease is leg, thigh, hip, or calf pain while walking, a symptom known as intermittent claudication. This pain indicates that the muscles are not receiving enough oxygen-rich blood from the heart due to narrowed arteries leading to the legs.
About 4 in 10 PAD patients will not experience intermittent claudication,1 or may not experience it until the disease has progressed significantly. This is why it’s important to pay attention to the early signs of PAD and get screened if you have any of the risk factors for PAD or are over the age of 60. Elevated recognition of PAD during PAD awareness month can lead to early detection of the disease, resulting in better outcomes for affected patients.
Common PAD Symptoms
The muscles in your legs and feet do a lot to keep you going. They carry the weight of your body, allowing you to stand, walk, jump, and run. When plaque builds up in the arteries leading to your legs, these muscles don’t get sufficient blood flow, which means they aren’t getting the oxygen and nutrients they need. This is why one of the classic PAD symptoms is cramping in the legs during light activity. The cramping is called claudication. If the pain goes away once you sit down, it’s called intermittent claudication.
Much of the time, this cramping affects the calf muscles. You may notice it when you’re climbing a flight of stairs or walking a short distance to your neighbor’s house. Some people notice the pain more in their thighs or buttocks.2 Claudication worsens over time, especially if the underlying PAD isn’t treated. The pain can become constant, even waking you up at night.
While it’s one of the most common symptoms and should be widely discussed during PAD awareness month, claudication is far from the only PAD symptom. Leg numbness, a cold feeling in one leg or foot, shiny skin on the legs, slowed toenail growth, and patchy leg hair can all be signs of PAD.
As PAD progresses, symptoms worsen. See a vascular doctor if you notice open sores on your legs or feet that take a long time to heal or don’t heal immediately. These ulcers can lead the tissue in your leg to die (gangrene) and increase the risk of amputation.
Am I At Risk?
PAD awareness month is an excellent time to discover what the PAD risk factors are and determine if you’re at risk. Some risk factors are out of your control, like a personal or family history of PAD, stroke, and heart disease. Age is also a risk factor for PAD, which is why we recommend that everyone aged 65 or older get a PAD screening. Type 1 diabetes is also a PAD risk factor. If you have any risk factors, talk to your doctor about the best way to manage them.
Not all PAD risk factors are out of your control, however. If you smoke cigarettes, live a sedentary lifestyle, have high cholesterol or high blood pressure, or have type 2 diabetes, you are at risk of developing PAD.
How Can I Prevent PAD?
PAD isn’t completely preventable, but lowering your risk factors is a step in the right direction. During vascular awareness month, we like to emphasize the steps you can take to live a healthier, lower-risk lifestyle. If you have diabetes, managing the condition is key to keeping your PAD risk low.
Anyone with a smoking habit should take steps to quit as soon as possible. Those with high blood cholesterol can talk to a registered dietitian to figure out how to lower cholesterol or take medication to help lower cholesterol levels. If you have high blood pressure, finding ways to ease stress and taking medication to lower blood pressure can help decrease your risk of developing PAD. Starting a consistent exercise plan can also help lower your blood pressure and cholesterol.
When Should I Visit a Vascular Doctor?
If you have any symptoms of PAD or live with PAD risk factors, see a skilled vascular doctor as soon as possible. Once it develops, PAD can progress quickly. While prompt treatment cannot cure PAD completely, it can significantly slow the progression of the disease, helping you live a full, active life.
Even if you don’t have symptoms of PAD, you should receive a screening if you are between the ages of 50 and 64 and have any PAD risk factors, such as smoking, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure. Even if you’re under 50, we recommend getting a PAD screening if you have diabetes.3
At USA Vascular Centers, our highly recommended vascular doctors are experts in diagnosing PAD. They can conduct a physical exam, taking note of the pulses in your feet and assessing your legs, toenails, and feet for signs of PAD. To gain more insight into whether you have the condition, our doctors can perform an ankle-brachial index test. An ABI test measures the blood pressure in your arm and ankle and compares the two numbers to determine if you have PAD. Further testing to determine a diagnosis may be needed, such as ultrasounds, a test that uses contrast dye and imaging (angiogram) to pinpoint blockages, and blood tests, all of which our doctors provide at USA Vascular Centers.
If PAD is detected, our doctors are experts in performing three minimally invasive PAD treatments:
- Angioplasty: this minimally invasive procedure uses a balloon-tipped catheter to widen narrowed arteries
- Stent placement: an angioplasty with the additional step of placing a mesh stent in the artery to prop it open
- Atherectomy: a minimally invasive procedure to open narrowed arteries by using a laser or special blade to cut plaque into pieces and safely remove it from the body
These minimally invasive procedures have less recovery time than other surgeries you may hear about during vascular awareness month. They may help improve PAD symptoms like cramping, ulcers, and slowed toenail growth and can help reduce your risk of PAD complications.
Schedule a Consultation With USA Vascular Centers
This vascular disease awareness month, pay attention to your body’s signals and get screened for PAD. At USA Vascular Centers, we’re here to help you navigate your diagnosis with a personalized treatment plan and empathetic care. Schedule a consultation with one of our vascular doctors online or call us at 888.773.2193 today.
- “Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, 27 September 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/PAD.htm. Accessed 28 January
- Cassar, Kevin. “Intermittent Claudication.” BMJ (Clinical research ed.). BMJ Publishing Group Ltd., November 11, 2006. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1635612/.
- “Understand Your Risk for Pad.” www.heart.org, October 25, 2021. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/peripheral-artery-disease/understand-your-risk-for-pad.