Peripheral Vascular Disease

Image caption: In peripheral artery disease, plaque builds up in the walls of the arteries outside of the heart, often blocking blood supply to the arms and legs. Seen in this image is a cut-away into an artery in the body where the hardened, fatty material has accumulated in the lumen, or opening. This plaque impedes on the necessary tube structure of the artery, preventing blood from flowing through. As a result, one can experience poor circulation or tissue death in the part of the body where that artery's destination lies. Plaque buildup is characteristic of atherosclerosis, and can happen as a result of fatty materials such as cholesterol in the blood. As the cholesterol travels through the blood stream, it sticks to the artery walls and accumulates over time. It becomes hard and calcified, leading to detrimental results.

Peripheral Arterial Disease

Also called: PAD

Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) happens when there is a narrowing of the blood vessels outside of your heart. The cause of PAD is atherosclerosis. This happens when plaque builds up on the walls of the arteries that supply blood to the arms and legs. Plaque is a substance made up of fat and cholesterol. It causes the arteries to narrow or become blocked. This can reduce or stop blood flow, usually to the legs. If severe enough, blocked blood flow can cause tissue death and can sometimes lead to amputation of the foot or leg.

The main risk factor for PAD is smoking. Other risk factors include older age and diseases like diabetes, high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.

Many people who have PAD don't have any symptoms. If you have symptoms, they may includ

  • Pain, numbness, achiness, or heaviness in the leg muscles. This happens when walking or climbing stairs.
  • Weak or absent pulses in the legs or feet
  • Sores or wounds on the toes, feet, or legs that heal slowly, poorly, or not at all
  • A pale or bluish color to the skin
  • A lower temperature in one leg than the other leg
  • Poor nail growth on the toes and decreased hair growth on the legs
  • Erectile dysfunction, especially among men who have diabetes

PAD can increase your risk of heart attack, stroke, and transient ischemic attack.

Doctors diagnose PAD with a physical exam and heart and imaging tests. Treatments include lifestyle changes, medicines, and sometimes surgery. Lifestyle changes include dietary changes, exercise, and efforts to lower high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure.

NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a narrowing of the arteries other than those that supply the heart or the brain. When narrowing occurs in the heart it is called coronary artery disease while in the brain it is called cerebrovascular disease. Peripheral artery disease most commonly affects the legs, but other arteries may also be involved. The classic symptom is leg pain when walking which resolves with rest, known as intermittent claudication. Other symptoms including skin ulcers, bluish skin, cold skin, or poor nail and hair growth may occur in the affected leg. Complications may include an infection or tissue death which may require amputation; coronary artery disease, or stroke. Up to 50% of cases of PAD are without symptoms.

The main risk factor is cigarette smoking. Other risk factors include diabetes, high blood pressure, and high blood cholesterol. The underlying mechanism is usually atherosclerosis. Other causes include artery spasm. PAD is typically diagnosed by finding an ankle-brachial index (ABI) less than 0.90, which is the systolic blood pressure at the ankle divided by the systolic blood pressure of the arm. Duplex ultrasonography and angiography may also be used. Angiography is more accurate and allows for treatment at the same time; however, it is associated with greater risks.

It is unclear if screening for disease is useful as it has not been properly studied. In those with intermittent claudication from PAD, stopping smoking and supervised exercise therapy improves outcomes. Medications, including statins, ACE inhibitors, and cilostazol also may help. Aspirin does not appear to help those with mild disease but is usually recommended in those with more significant disease. Anticoagulants such as warfarin are not typically of benefit. Procedures used to treat the disease include bypass grafting, angioplasty, and atherectomy.

In 2010 about 202 million people had PAD worldwide. In the developed world it affects about 5.3% of 45 to 50 years olds and 18.6% of 85- to 90-year-olds. In the developing world it affects 4.6% of people between the ages of 45 to 50 and 15% of people between the ages of 85 to 90. In the developed world PAD is equally common among men and women while in the developing world women are more commonly affected. In 2013 PAD resulted in about 41,000 deaths up from 16,000 deaths in 1990.

The material on this site is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. It should not be used to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Consult a licensed medical professional for the diagnosis and treatment of all medical conditions and before starting a new diet or exercise program. If you have a medical emergency, call 911 immediately.