What Causes Pad Peripheral Artery Disease

Peripheral artery disease impairs the flow of blood to the body’s extremities, most often reducing blood flow to the legs. Some PAD risk factors can be avoided. Smoking, for instance, is a leading cause of peripheral artery disease. People who manage to quit smoking lower their risk of PAD significantly. Other PAD causes are not avoidable. Age, ethnicity and family history are factors a person cannot change.

Atherosclerosis and PAD

Atherosclerosis, or narrowing of the arteries, is what causes PAD. Disease, smoking or other factors damage artery walls over time. Plaque deposits may form where the artery heals.

Plaque is a sticky mass of fatty deposits, cholesterol and other substances. Over time, atherosclerosis thickens and narrows the walls of the arteries, reducing blood flow. When atherosclerosis affects arteries leading to the arms, legs and head, the condition causes PAD. PAD can also affect the stomach and kidneys.

Age and PAD Causes

The risk of PAD increases with age. Up to 5 percent of Americans older than 50 develop PAD. After age 65 rates of PAD rise as high as 12 to 20 percent (NHLBI, 2008). Older people are more likely to live with PAD risk factors such as diabetes and hypertension, and lifestyle choices have slow but cumulative effects.

Diabetes and PAD

Diabetes, like smoking, is considered one of the leading PAD causes. People can reduce their risk of diabetes by making healthy lifestyle choices.

Diabetes can be controlled, but not cured. Carefully following a diabetes treatment plan reduces the risk of diabetes-related PAD and other cardiovascular complications.

Homocysteine Levels

High levels of the amino acid homocysteine have been linked to atherosclerosis, which in turn causes PAD. Excess homocysteine appears to damage the arterial lining, increasing the risk of plaque formation.

Family History, Genetics and PAD

Genetics are thought to influence what causes PAD. Family histories of high cholesterol, hypertension, heart disease, stroke and peripheral artery disease are all considered PAD risk factors. Whether family history indicates a genetic component to PAD or results from shared family lifestyle choices remains unknown.

Ethnicity also increases the risk of PAD. African Americans are twice as likely to develop PAD as Caucasians, according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (2008).

Remember that the presence of PAD risk factors is not a guarantee the disease will occur. Multiple PAD causes increase the risk of peripheral artery disease more than a single risk.


American Academy of Family Physicians. (2010). Atherosclerosis. Retrieved March 2, 2011, from http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/common/heartdisease/basics/1038.printerview.html

American Heart Association. (2011). What is homocysteine? Retrieved March 2, 2011, from http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=535

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2010). Peripheral artery disease (PAD). Retrieved March 2, 2011 from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/peripheral-arterial-disease/DS00537

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. (2008). Peripheral artery disease. Retrieved March 2, 2011, from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/pad/pad_what.html