What is peripheral artery disease (PAD)?

Peripheral artery disease happens when arteries in the legs become narrowed, but also can affect the peripheral arteries in the stomach, arms and head.

What is peripheral artery disease?

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a type of vascular disease caused by plaque and fatty buildups narrowing the peripheral arteries. The peripheral arteries are the blood vessels in the body outside of the heart and brain. PAD occurs most commonly in the leg arteries but also can affect the peripheral arteries in the stomach, arms and head.

When the arteries become narrowed, less blood can flow through them. This can cause cramping, pain or tiredness in the legs or hips while walking or climbing stairs. The pain often goes away with rest and then comes back with activity.

People with peripheral artery disease have a higher risk of coronary artery disease, heart attack and stroke, according to the American Heart Association.

What’s the difference between  peripheral artery disease and coronary artery disease?

Coronary artery disease is like PAD in that it occurs from buildup of plaque and fatty deposits in the arteries, called atherosclerosis. The difference is coronary artery disease happens in the blood vessels of the heart and brain. Coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death in men and women due to heart attack and stroke.

How is PAD treated?

If you have symptoms listed above, see your health provider right away. Peripheral artery disease can be diagnosed with a simple and painless test.

If you have PAD, your health care provider will create a treatment plan that likely will include lifestyle changes, exercise and/or medication.

Left untreated, PAD can lead to sores, ulcers and even leg amputation due to lack of blood circulation. Symptoms often go undiagnosed because they can be mistaken for something else or as nothing serious.

You can reduce your risk for PAD by:

  • Not smoking
  • Controlling diabetes and high blood pressure
  • Getting plenty of exercise
  • Eating a diet low in saturated and trans fats

Is there a connection between peripheral artery disease and varicose or spider veins?

Varicose and spider veins are symptoms of venous disease, a condition that is different from PAD. Varicose and spider veins affect the blood vessels that return blood to the heart. Peripheral artery disease affects blood vessels that carry blood away from the heart to the rest of the body.

Spider veins rarely are a serious health problem, but can cause discomfort in the legs.

Varicose veins can cause aching pain, throbbing and discomfort. In some cases, varicose veins can lead to more serious health conditions, including skin ulcers, bleeding, superficial thrombosis (a blood clot just below the skin) and deep vein thrombosis (a clot in a deeper vein, which can be a very serious health concern).

Symptoms of deep vein thrombosis may include leg pain or swelling. It’s also possible there may be no symptoms.

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