Peripheral Artery Disease
Peripheral arterial disease - also known as P.A.D. - is a common, yet serious, disease that raises the risk of heart attack and stroke. P.A.D. develops when arteries in your legs become clogged with plaque - fatty deposits that limit blood flow to your legs. Just like clogged arteries in the heart, clogged arteries in the legs raise your risk for heart attack or stroke. P.A.D. affects 8 to 12 million people in the United States, especially those over age 50.

P.A.D. does not always cause symptoms, so many people may have P.A.D. and not know it. People who do experience symptoms, such as pain or cramping in the legs, often do not report them, believing they are a natural part of aging or due to another cause.

Some conditions and habits raise your chance of developing P.A.D. Your risk increases if you:

Are middle-aged. People over the age of 50 are at more risk.

Smoke or used to smoke. Those who smoke or have a history of smoking have up to four times greater risk of developing P.A.D.

Have diabetes. One in every three people over the age of 50 with diabetes is likely to have P.A.D.

Have high blood pressure. Also called hypertension, high blood pressure raises the risk of developing plaque in the arteries.

Have high blood cholesterol. Excess cholesterol and fat in your blood contribute to the formation of plaque in the arteries, reducing or blocking blood flow to your heart, brain, or limbs.

Have a personal history of vascular disease, heart attack, or stroke. If you have heart disease, you have a one in three chance of also having P.A.D.

Are African American. African Americans are more than twice as likely to have P.A.D. as their white counterparts.

Most people with P.A.D. do not have the typical signs and symptoms of the disease, which include:

  • Claudication: Fatigue, heaviness, tiredness, or cramping in the leg muscles (buttocks, thigh, or calf) that occurs during activity such as walking or climbing stairs. This pain or discomfort goes away once the activity is stopped and during rest. Many people do not report this problem to their health care providers because they think it is a natural part of aging or due to some other cause.

  • Pain in the legs and/or feet that disturbs sleep.

  • Sores or wounds on toes, feet, or legs that heal slowly, poorly, or not at all.

  • A lower temperature in one leg compared to the other leg.

  • Poor nail growth and decreased hair growth on toes and legs.