Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a condition where the legs and/or arms do not receive enough blood. This condition develops most commonly in the legs and is usually caused by a buildup of fatty deposits in the arteries leading to the legs. Eventually, these deposits may result in narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis) putting the affected individual at risk for a heart attack or stroke. Other less common causes of PAD include inflammation (including swelling) of the arteries, certain leg injuries, certain problems with ligaments or muscles in the legs, and radiation exposure.
Individuals with PAD often feel pain while walking (intermittent claudication). Other symptoms include leg cramping, leg numbness or weakness, one leg feeling colder than the other, sores that don’t heal quickly, hair loss on legs, slow growing toenails, and skin that can be shiny or a different color.
The largest risk factor is smoking. Diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, aging, a family history, and high levels of a protein called homocysteine also increase your risk for developing PAD.
A diagnosis can be made in several ways. Your doctor may conduct a physical exam, perform an ultrasound, look at your blood vessels by injecting dye into them (angiography), or run blood tests. An ankle-brachial index (ABI) test may also be used to compare the blood pressure levels in your arms and legs. Some people with PAD can be treated with simple lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, exercising regularly, and eating healthy. In more severe cases, your doctor may prescribe certain medications or recommend surgery to stop the atherosclerosis from getting worse. Research is ongoing, so if you have been diagnosed with PAD, talk with your doctor and specialists about the most current treatment options. Support groups are good sources of information and can help connect you with others living with PAD.