The build of plaque in the arteries is called peripheral artery disease (PAD). This causes narrowed and reduced blood flow to the limbs. Common causes include smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Symptoms include leg pain or cramping, especially during exercise. And treatment may include lifestyle changes, medication, or surgical procedures. In severe cases, surgery or endovascular interventions can also be done. 

Everything You Need to Know About Peripheral Artery Disease

Peripheral artery disease, commonly referred to as PAD, occurs when fatty deposits or plaque accumulate in the arteries in your arms or legs. Such accumulation hinders the sufficient flow of blood blessed with oxygen and nutrients to the surrounding muscular tissues. While it is a chronic condition, you can mitigate its impact by taking necessary actions. Some effective actions that you can take are as follows:

  • Adopting a regular exercise routine
  • Implementing a low-fat diet
  • Refraining from the use of tobacco products 

An Overview of Peripheral Artery Disease

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a condition where plaque builds up in your leg arteries. These arteries carry blood from your heart to your legs. Plaque is made of fat, cholesterol and other substances. It forms gradually inside your artery walls, narrowing your arteries. This is called atherosclerosis.

Plaque deposits can be hard on the outside and soft on the inside. When the hard surface cracks, blood clots can form around the plaque, making your artery even narrower. If plaque or a blood clot blocks your arteries, blood can’t reach the tissues below the blockage. This can cause damage and eventually death to the tissues, especially in your toes and feet.

PAD can get worse faster in some people than in others. Several other factors matter, such as where the plaque forms in your body and your overall health.

Impact of Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) on the Human Body

The usual indication of PAD is referred to as claudication, a technical expression for discomfort in the leg that initiates while walking or working out and disappears with rest. The discomfort arises due to insufficient oxygen supply to your leg muscles.

The risks associated with PAD go beyond just problems with walking. Peripheral artery disease raises the likelihood of developing a persistent sore on one’s legs or feet that does not heal. In some situations where PAD is severe, the sores can transform into areas with no living cells (gangrene) that require the amputation of the leg or foot.

Different Stages of Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)

Healthcare professionals usually use two different systems to evaluate the level of peripheral artery disease (PAD). They are Fontaine and Rutherford. 

The Fontaine stages are easier to understand and implement. They are as follows:

  • Asymptomatic (without symptoms)
  • Mild claudication (pain experienced in the legs while exercising) and Moderate to severe claudication
  • Ischemic rest pain (pain or aching sensation experienced in the legs while at rest)
  • Ulcers or gangrene

Symptoms of Peripheral Artery Disease

The initial indication of PAD generally involves a sensation of pain, cramps, or unease in the legs or buttocks (also known as intermittent claudication). This arises during physical activity and subsides during periods of rest. Further symptoms of peripheral artery disease are as follows:

Experiencing a sensation of burning or aching in your feet and toes when you are off your feet, particularly at night when you are lying down.

  • Burning or aching pain in your feet and toes while resting, especially at night while lying flat.
  • Cool skin on your feet.
  • Skin discolouration, such as redness or alterations in hue.
  • Skin and soft tissue infections are happening more often. (typically felt in the lower extremities, such as your feet or legs).
  • Sores on the toes and feet that persist without healing.

Many people with peripheral artery disease don’t have symptoms, and it can build up over time. Symptoms may not show up until later in life when the artery is narrowed by 60% or more. If you’re experiencing symptoms, it’s important to talk to a healthcare provider to start treatment early. Early detection is important to prevent heart attack or stroke complications.

Causes, Complications, and Risk Factors of PAD

Complications of PAD

PAD can cause atherosclerosis in other parts of the body. If left untreated, individuals suffering from PAD may require amputation. The removal of part or all of the patient’s foot or leg, especially in persons who are diabetics will be done. And needless to say that it can be a traumatic experience, both physically and emotionally. Because of the interconnectedness of the body’s circulatory system, Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) may have systemic implications beyond the affected limb. Those with atherosclerosis in their legs may also develop it in other regions of their body due to the systemic nature of the disease.

Causes of PAD

Peripheral arterial disease is a condition that results from atherosclerosis in the arteries that lead to the legs or arms. The accumulation of fatty plaque in the arterial walls narrows the blood vessels, reducing blood flow to these regions. The continuous build-up of plaque eventually leads to blockage, causing damage to the tissues and muscles in your peripheral areas. The severity of the disease is dependent on the extent and location of plaque build-up.

Risk Factors for PAD

The risk factors for PAD include:

  • Smoking: Smoking damages the walls of the arteries, making them more likely to narrow and become blocked.
  • High blood pressure: High blood pressure can damage the walls of the arteries and increase the risk of PAD.
  • High cholesterol: High levels of cholesterol in the blood can lead to the buildup of fatty deposits in the arteries, which can narrow or block them.
  • Diabetes: Diabetes can damage the nerves and blood vessels, leading to an increased risk of PAD.
  • Obesity: Being overweight or obese can put extra strain on the arteries and increase the risk of PAD.
  • Family history: If someone in your family has had PAD, you may be at increased risk.
  • Age: PAD is more common in people over the age of 50.

By managing these risk factors, individuals can reduce their risk of developing PAD.

PAD: Management and Treatment

PAD happens when the blood vessels become narrow due to plaque buildup, making it hard for blood to flow properly. This can cause pain in the legs, especially when walking or climbing stairs. In severe cases, it can even cause tissue damage or amputation. Lifestyle changes and medications can improve blood flow and help manage symptoms. You can do a few things to manage and treat PAD. Important ones are as follows:

Lifestyle Changes:

  • Cease the consumption of tobacco products.
  • Eat a healthy diet (high in fibre and low in cholesterol, fat and sodium)
  • Exercise regularly 
  • Oversee other medical conditions
  • Maintain a relaxed state of mind to avoid being stressed out
  • Make sure to take good care of your skin and feet


Take medications from doctors to control your 

  • Cholesterol
  • Blood pressure, and 
  • Blood sugar levels

These medications can help prevent further plaque buildup. Also, it can help reduce the risk of complications. 

In some cases, procedures such as angioplasty or bypass surgery may be needed to open up the blocked blood vessels and restore blood flow to the affected area.

Warning: It is also important to stop smoking as smoking can worsen PAD and increase the risk of complications.


What steps can I take to lower the risk of developing peripheral artery disease?

To reduce the risk of developing PAD, it is essential to maintain a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise, a balanced diet, and quitting smoking. Additionally, managing conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol levels can also help in reducing the risk of PAD.

What are the complications of PAD treatment?

Possible complications of PAD treatment include:

  • Bleeding or hematoma
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fever or chills
  • Infection
  • Blood clots
  • Allergic reactions
  • Nerve damage
  • Restenosis (re-narrowing) of the treated artery
  • Pain or discomfort in the treated area
  • Dizziness
  • Belly pain

If you experience any of these problems following your procedure, you must reach out to your endovascular surgeon.

What is the recovery time for peripheral artery disease treatment?

The recovery time from treatment for peripheral artery disease varies depending on the type of treatment received. Some patients may feel better within days to weeks, while others may take several months to fully recover.

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