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Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) - Overview

More than 8 million people aged 40 and older in the United States have peripheral artery disease (PAD). This common, yet serious, vascular disease can cause a range of painful and uncomfortable leg symptoms. Over time, PAD can impact mobility and quality of life. It can also place you at increased risk for heart attack, stroke, and limb amputation.

To prevent the progression of PAD, early treatment is recommended. At USA Vascular Centers, a vascular specialist can work with you to develop a personalized treatment plan. Our specialists are experts in treating vascular conditions and dedicated to improving patients’ quality of life.

Symptoms of PAD

It is important to recognize the early signs and symptoms of peripheral artery disease. Early intervention often leads to the best health outcomes. 

The most common symptom of PAD is claudication, experienced by about one in four patients. Claudication is muscle pain or weakness that begins with physical activity, such as walking, and stops within minutes after resting.

A variety of other leg symptoms affect people with PAD. However, it’s important to know that about 40% of patients have no leg symptoms at all.

Common PAD signs and symptoms include: 

  • Leg pain, cramping, or numbness
  • Leg fatigue or heaviness 
  • Leg discoloration 
  • Loss of hair on legs
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Difficulty walking or climbing stairs
  • Foot and leg pain that disturbs sleep
  • Shiny skin on the legs
  • Non-healing wounds on feet or legs
  • One leg that is cooler than the other 
  • Cold or numb toes
  • Poor toenail growth

Causes and Risk Factors for PAD

PAD is caused by atherosclerosis, a condition that occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries. The involved plaque is composed of cholesterol, fats, cellular waste products, and fibrin. Your arteries are responsible for carrying blood and oxygen throughout the body. 

Atherosclerosis can lead to a narrowing or blockage of blood flow in the arteries leading to the lower extremities. When sufficient blood and oxygen is unable to reach your legs, a range of painful symptoms can develop.

Risk factors for PAD include:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Race
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Poor diet
  • Inactivity

The presence of three or more factors confers a 10-fold increase in PAD risk. If you are concerned about your risk factors for PAD, we recommend consulting a vascular specialist.

PAD Diagnosis and Tests

If you are at risk for PAD, your doctor may order medical tests to make a diagnosis. At USA Vascular Centers, we use the following tests to diagnose PAD:

  • Ankle-brachial index (ABI): Most commonly, an ABI exam is used to diagnose PAD. This minimally invasive test takes only a few minutes and compares the blood pressure in your ankle with that of your arm.
  • Angiogram: Angiography is a type of medical imaging that involves injecting a contrast agent (a type of dye) into the arteries. Afterward, X-ray images are taken to measure blood flow and look for arterial blockages that indicate PAD.

Stages of PAD

Peripheral artery disease is considered a progressive disease. This means symptoms get worse over time, leading to more serious health conditions. Without treatment, your disease may progress in the following ways:

    • Early disease: It is possible to have PAD and not be aware of it, since some individuals do not experience symptoms during the early stages. Others begin to notice mild symptoms, such as intermittent claudication.
    • Moderate disease: As PAD progresses, the symptom of claudication may become severe and impact daily activities. You may experience leg pain at rest or skin changes like discoloration and non-healing wounds. In severe cases, critical limb ischemia (CLI) can develop. CLI is a vascular condition that occurs when adequate blood supply fails to reach one or more limbs. When left untreated, it can result in limb amputation. 
    • Advanced disease: When PAD progresses to the advanced stages, treatment options are limited. Limb amputation may be required due to tissue death and dry gangrene (dry, black skin). 

Prevention of Peripheral Artery Disease

If you are at risk for PAD, we recommend controlling your lifestyle risk factors to prevent disease onset. Specifically, we suggest you:

  • Eat a healthy, well-rounded diet
  • Be physically active
  • Quit smoking
  • Manage underlying health conditions
  • Attend routine health screenings

If you are struggling to achieve a healthy lifestyle, talk to your doctor about available resources. They may recommend visiting a registered dietician, participating in a supervised exercise program, or joining a smoking cessation program.

PAD Management and Lifestyle

Chronic peripheral artery disease can impact your quality of life. Although there is no cure, PAD is a treatable condition. That said, we also want you to understand that early treatment tends to lead to the best health outcomes.

Your personalized PAD treatment plan may include:

  • Lifestyle modifications: Maintaining a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI), eating a well-rounded diet, exercising regularly, and quitting smoking can help alleviate your PAD symptoms and also help prevent dangerous health complications.
  • Medications: Your doctor may prescribe medications to improve blood flow throughout the body. Be sure to take these exactly as prescribed.
  • Medical procedures: In the case of a severe blockage, we may recommend a vascular procedure to open up your arteries. Rest assured that our specialists are renowned experts in performing minimally invasive PAD treatments.

At USA Vascular Centers, all of our PAD treatments aim to:

  • Alleviate symptoms
  • Reduce health risks
  • Improve quality of life

If you are at risk for peripheral artery disease or experiencing PAD symptoms, we recommend consulting a vascular specialist as soon as possible.

Request a Consultation With USA Vascular Centers

Our leading vascular specialists offer lower extremity peripheral artery disease treatment. Office-based appointments are available in over 40 locations nationwide. We also provide virtual doctor visits.

To explore your treatment options, schedule an appointment today. We look forward to meeting you.

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