Peripheral arterial disease (P.A.D.) is a disease in which plaque builds up in the arteries that carry blood to your head, organs, and limbs. Plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium, fibrous tissue, and other substances in the blood.
When plaque builds up in the body’s arteries, the condition is called atherosclerosis. Over time, plaque can harden and narrow the arteries. This limits the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your organs and other parts of your body.
P.A.D. usually affects the arteries in the legs, but it also can affect the arteries that carry blood from your heart to your head, arms, kidneys, and stomach. This article focuses on P.A.D. that affects blood flow to the legs.
Blocked blood flow to your legs can cause pain and numbness. If you have leg pain when you walk or climb stairs, talk with your doctor. Sometimes older people think that leg pain is just a symptom of aging. However, the cause of the pain could be P.A.D. Tell your doctor if you’re feeling pain in your legs and discuss whether you should be tested for P.A.D.
Smoking is the main risk factor for P.A.D. If you smoke or have a history of smoking, your risk of P.A.D. increases up to four times. Other factors, such as age and having certain diseases or conditions, also increase your risk of P.A.D.
P.A.D. increases your risk of coronary heart disease (CHD; also called coronary artery disease), heart attack, stroke, and transient ischemic attackexternal link icon (“mini-stroke“). If you have CHD, you have a 1 in 3 chance of having blocked leg arteries.
Although P.A.D. is serious, it’s treatable. If you have the disease, see your doctor regularly and treat the underlying atherosclerosis.