Peripheral Artery Disease 101: PAD Symptoms, Causes & Risk Factors

PADPeripheral artery disease, also known as peripheral arterial disease, or PAD, is a potentially life- and limb-threatening condition in which the arteries that deliver blood from the heart to the rest of the body narrow, resulting in weakened circulation and decreased blood flow to the limbs.

PAD Causes
The narrowing of the arteries and weakening of circulation experienced by patients with peripheral artery disease is typically caused by atherosclerosis, which is a buildup of fatty deposits and plaque in the lining of blood vessels that deliver blood from the heart to the rest of the body. The specific cause of atherosclerosis isn’t known, but it is thought that unhealthy lifestyle choices such as smoking and poor diet/exercise habits, among other things, can lead to damage of the inner parts of arteries, thereby causing the formation of plaque as the body tries to heal itself.

PAD Risk Factors
According to the National Institute of Health, those most at risk for PAD include:

  • Smokers
  • People with Diabetes
  • Adults Over the Age of 50
  • People who are considered obese
  • People with high blood pressure or high cholesterol, or who have a family history of either
  • People who have experienced a stroke or who have a family history of stroke
  • People with coronary heart disease or who have a family history of CHD
  • People with Metabolic syndrome

Having any combination of the above risk factors may put you at an even higher risk for peripheral artery disease.

PAD Symptoms
“It’s important to note that many people suffering from peripheral artery disease do not experience any symptoms,” said Michael Clark, MD, vascular surgeon at Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital. “When they do occur, the most common symptom of PAD is leg pain.”

This leg pain presents itself when walking, climbing stairs, or exercising and generally improves with rest, which is also known as claudication, said Dr. Clark. Claudication is experienced by roughly 10 percent of all PAD patients.

Other peripheral artery disease symptoms may include coldness in the lower extremities, decreased hair growth (especially on the legs), and numbness and/or tingling in the lower legs and feet.

If you have any risk factors for PAD, whether you’re experiencing symptoms or not, talk to your physician and ask if you should be screened.

Find out more about vascular services at Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital.

To find a vascular surgeon, call 888-250-STJO (7856).


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