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Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)

What is Peripheral Artery Disease?

The circulatory system is made up of a complicated network of arteries and veins that carry oxygen and nourishment through the blood to every part of the body. Peripheral artery disease (PAD) occurs when there is a problem within the veins and arteries. Arteries are what supply oxygen and nutrients from the heart to the rest of the body. If an artery becomes blocked, known as peripheral artery disease, and can no longer deliver blood to other areas of the body, such as the foot and lower leg, serious problems can occur.

What is Athertosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis is plaque that has built up inside your artery walls. Plaque is made up of deposits of fats, cholesterol, and other substances. Atherosclerosis in the peripheral arteries is the most common cause of PAD.

What does Peripheral Artery Disease look like?

Peripheral artery disease is also likely to be a sign of a buildup of fatty deposits in your arteries (atherosclerosis). This condition may narrow your arteries and reduce blood flow to your legs and, occasionally, your arms.

This video depicts how blood flow is restricted as plaque builds up within an artery’s walls. Healthy arteries have a smooth lining that prevents blood from clotting and keeps blood flowing. When plaque builds up within the walls, you can see how the pathway for blood to move becomes narrowed. Plaque is made of excessive fat, cholesterol and other substances floating through the bloodstream. 

What are the Signs & Symptoms of Peripheral Artery Disease?

Patients with PAD have an increased risk of a heart attack or stroke. Treatments can range from simple lifestyle changes to compression stockings to minimally invasive procedures. If left untreated, PAD can lead to Critical Limb Ischemia and potential limb amputation. Common symptoms to look for include:

  • Heavy feeling or achy legs, especially when walking
  • Loss of hair on your legs or toes
  • Wounds on your legs or feet that are slow to heal or do not heal
  • Change in the temperature of your lower leg, compared to thigh level
  • A sensation of cold feet
  • Leg pain or cramping at bedtime

What are the risk factors of Peripheral Artery Disease?

  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Obesity
  • High Cholesterol
  • Kidney Disease
  • Anyone over 65 years old
  • History of heart disease
  • Family history of heart disease

How is Peripheral Artery Disease Diagnosed?

PAD is commonly diagnosed in one of two ways: an Ankle Brachial Index or Angiography.

Ankle Brachial Index: This test compares the blood pressure in your ankle of the suspected leg with the blood pressure in your arm. A significant difference in the two pressures might indicate a blockage exists somewhere in the leg.

Angiography: For this test, the doctor uses x-ray and dye injected through an IV to examine blood flow and look for blockages.

The importance of early diagnosis and treatment

The best treatment for PAD is prevention with healthy habits and a healthy diet. Quitting smoking will significantly reduce the risk of developing PAD.

Removing or lessening plaque buildup is the primary treatment. Untreated PAD can eventually lead to wounds that do not heal, resulting in tissue death (gangrene) and the possible need for amputation – a condition called Critical Limb Ischemia.

We are here to help.

Treatment for Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) and amputation prevention is our #1 focus at The Texas Cardiac & Vascular Institute. Please reach out if you or a family member has signs or symptoms of PAD.