Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a condition in which there is a narrowing or blockage of the arteries in the lower extremities that carry blood from the heart to the legs. It can also occur in the arms, but it is not as common.
The condition occurs due to a buildup of fatty plaque in the arteries, referred to as atherosclerosis. The plaque build-up causes a narrowing of the opening in the vessels that deliver blood to the lower extremities, resulting in decreased blood flow. This is similar to how plaque builds up in the arteries around the heart, leading to a heart attack, or in arteries leading to the brain, where it can cause a stroke.
PAD can cause pain in the lower extremities and reduce mobility. Left untreated, it may even result in amputation. If you have PAD, it’s also more likely you’re at an increased risk for heart attack and stroke, since the same plaque buildup that occurs in arteries in the leg may be present in arteries around the heart and brain.
Symptoms of PAD
Some people have no symptoms of PAD at all. In others, the most common symptom is pain in the legs that occurs with physical activity but gets better with rest. You may experience all or some of these symptoms if you have PAD:
How to Prevent PAD
There’s no way to guarantee you won’t get peripheral artery disease, but many of the same precautions that protect you from heart disease and stroke will also protect you from PAD. The good news is that adopting or maintaining healthy lifestyle habits may help lower your risk for all of these conditions. If you already have PAD, these same lifestyle habits may improve symptoms and delay progression of the condition.
Here’s what you can do to lower your risk of developing PAD:
If You Are Diagnosed with PAD
A PAD diagnosis may be made by checking the blood pressure in your ankles and comparing it with the blood pressure in your arms. Imaging tests may also be ordered. If it is determined that you have PAD, your doctor may prescribe medications to prevent blood from clotting (such as aspirin) and to reduce your cholesterol. Healthy lifestyle habits, such as those outlined above, will also be recommended. If the condition is advanced, surgery may be needed to restore normal blood flow to the legs.
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