Peripheral Artery Disease

According to the American Heart Association, peripheral artery disease affects about 8 million Americans. It is characterized by a narrowing of the arteries in the pelvis and legs, and more rarely, in other parts of the body. Like coronary artery disease and carotid artery disease, it restricts the blood supply back and forth from the heart. Peripheral artery disease often goes undiagnosed until serious complications occur.

Symptoms and Complications:

Many people with peripheral artery disease mistake the symptoms for other things because the symptoms may be interpreted as simply the signs of aging. The most common symptom of PAD is muscle cramping in the hips, thighs or calves when walking, climbing stairs or exercising. The cramping is caused by lack of oxygen due to the narrowing of the arteries supplying blood to the muscles. The pain goes away when you stop exerting yourself because muscles need less oxygen when you’re at rest, but will return when you become active again. Other symptoms of severe peripheral artery disease include:

* Leg pain: that continues even when you stop exercising

* Slow healing: in wounds to the toes, feet or lower extremities

* Gangrene

* Decrease in temperature: in the lower leg, especially as compared to the other leg or the rest of your body

Risk Factors and Causes:

There are many things that contribute to peripheral artery disease, though there is no known definite cause. The risk factors include both uncontrollable risks and controllable risk factors, such as:

* Age, family history of PAD, cardiovascular disease or stroke: If you or a family member have a history of PAD or if you have had a stroke or have any cardiovascular disease you are at higher risk for PAD

* Cigarette smoking: Smokers have a 4 times greater risk of developing PAD than those who don’t smoke.

* Obesity: People with a BMI are more likely to develop coronary disease and PAD.

* Diabetes: People with diabetes have a higher risk of developing peripheral artery disease.

* Physical inactivity: People with a sedentary lifestyle are more at risk for developing PAD.

* High blood cholesterol: High cholesterol contributes to the buildup of plaque in the arteries and worsens PAD.


Doctors prescribe a combination of lifestyle changes and claudication to slow the progression of peripheral artery disease. In some cases, it may be possible to reverse the symptoms of PAD. People with peripheral artery disease may be prescribed medications to lower blood pressure or reduce cholesterol levels, as well as to prevent blood clots. In severe cases, doctors may perform angioplasty, implant stents or perform an arterial bypass. New treatments for peripheral artery disease using a person’s own stem cells could provide a solution for the hundreds of thousands of people who suffer from chronic leg pain, ulcer formation and risk of gangrene.

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