Peripheral Artery Disease Image

Peripheral Arterial Disease

Peripheral artery disease, also known as peripheral arterial disease, is a common circulatory problem in which narrowed arteries reduce blood flow to your limbs.

When you develop peripheral artery disease (PAD), your extremities usually your legs don't receive enough blood flow to keep up with demand. This causes symptoms, most notably leg pain when walking (intermittent claudication).

Peripheral artery disease is also likely to be a sign of widespread accumulation of fatty deposits in your arteries (atherosclerosis). This condition may be reducing blood flow to your heart and brain, as well as your legs.

Often, you can successfully treat peripheral artery disease by quitting tobacco if you smoke, exercising and eating a healthy diet. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent peripheral artery disease from getting worse and also help you reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Peripheral Arterial Disease Symptoms

If you do have symptoms, you may have a tight, aching, or squeezing pain in the calf, thigh, or buttock. This pain, called intermittent claudication, usually happens after you have walked a certain distance. For example, your pain may always start after you have walked a block or two or after a few minutes. The pain goes away if you stop walking. As PAD gets worse, you may have pain in your foot or toe when you are not walking.

But, not everyone has intermittent claudication. About 1 out of 5 people with PAD may have intermittent claudication.2 Some people with PAD do not have leg pain simply because they do not walk far enough to bring intermittent claudication on.

Other symptoms of peripheral arterial disease of the legs may include:
  • Weak or tired legs.
  • Difficulty walking or balancing.
  • Cold and numb feet or toes.
  • Sores that are slow to heal.
  • Foot pain while you are at rest, which indicates that PAD is getting worse.
  • Erectile dysfunction.

Physical signs of advanced peripheral arterial disease of the legs may appear, such as:
  • Feet and toes that become pale from exercise or when elevated.
  • Loss of hair on the feet and toes.
  • Feet that turn red when dangled.
  • Blue or purple marks on the legs, feet, or toes, caused by reduced oxygen flow to the tissues.
  • Ulcers on the feet or toes.
  • Gangrene infection (death of tissue), indicated by black skin on the legs or feet.

Peripheral Arterial Disease Treatment

One of the single most important treatments for peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is to quit smoking. Quitting smoking is difficult, but you do not have to do it on your own. Your doctor can give you medicines such as bupropion (Zyban or Wellbutrin, for example) or varenicline (Chantix), to help you stop craving nicotine. Avoid secondhand smoke too.

There are also products that wean you off nicotine without using tobacco. This is called nicotine replacement therapy, and it helps you gradually stop using nicotine. Products include nicotine patches, gums, nasal sprays, inhalers, and lozenges. These treatments are proven to help people quit smoking for a longer time.1 For more information, see the topic Quitting Smoking.

Because you have PAD, you have a high risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Your doctor will probably recommend that you follow a heart-healthy diet and increase your physical activity by walking. Even though walking causes you pain, it may be the best exercise you can get. You will need to rest as soon as the pain starts and walk a little farther after it goes away. Make sure you talk to your doctor first, before you start an exercise plan.