Peripheral artery disease, also known as PAD, is a narrowing and hardening of the arteries that supply blood to the legs and feet. Peripheral artery disease is also called peripheral vascular disease (PVD). About 8 million Americans are currently living with PAD.
“We’re trying to get to the forefront of a disease that not many people know about,” Angelo Santos, M.D. said. “They think peripheral artery disease means things with your heart, but actually it’s completely the opposite. It’s involving all the blood vessels outside of your heart and your brain.”
According to Santos, symptoms of PAD can include pain or discomfort when you walk, cramping, heaviness, tiredness and aching or wounds on the legs and feet that don’t heal as quickly as they should. Those who suffer from high blood pressure or diabetes are at an increased risk for PAD. The same is true for smokers.
“The majority of the patients with PAD have a gradual worsening of things,” said Santos. “They’ll say ‘I used to be able to walk 5-6 blocks and now I can only walk a block without stopping because my legs hurt.’”
PAD can often be managed through diet and lifestyle changes and some medications are available.
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What is peripheral vascular disease?
Peripheral vascular disease (PVD) is a slow and progressive disorder of the blood vessels. Narrowing, blockage, or spasms in a blood vessel can cause PVD.
PVD may affect any blood vessel outside of the heart. This includes the arteries, veins, or lymphatic vessels. Organs supplied by these vessels, such as the brain or legs, may not get enough blood flow for healthy function. The legs and feet are most often affected.
What causes peripheral vascular disease?
The most common cause of PVD is atherosclerosis. This is the buildup of plaque inside the artery wall. Plaque reduces the amount of blood flow to the limbs. It decreases the oxygen and nutrients sent to the tissue. Blood clots may form on the artery walls. This makes the inner size of the blood vessels even smaller and causes hardening of the arteries, thus blocking major ones.
Other causes of PVD may include:
- Injury to the arms or legs
- Irregular anatomy of muscles or ligaments
People with coronary artery disease (CAD) often also have PVD.
Who is at risk for peripheral vascular disease?
Risk factors that you can’t change include:
- Age (higher risk over age 50)
- History of heart disease
- Male gender
- Postmenopausal women
- Family history of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or peripheral vascular disease
Risk factors that may be changed or treated include:
- Coronary artery disease
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Physical inactivity
- Smoking or use of tobacco products
Those who smoke or have diabetes have the highest risk of complications from PVD. This is because these risk factors cause impaired blood flow.