What Is Pad Peripheral Artery Disease

What is PAD? Short for peripheral artery disease, PAD refers to blockages in the arteries that slow blood flow to the extremities. Also known as peripheral arterial disease, PAD affects up to 12 million people in the United States (NHLBI, 2008).

What is PAD’s Primary Cause?

Atherosclerosis occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries that carry oxygen rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body. Plaque is a mix of cholesterol, calcium, fatty deposits and other substances.

Plaque deposits cause artery walls to narrow and harden, reducing blood flow. Peripheral artery disease occurs when atherosclerosis affects arteries in areas of the body away from the heart. The legs are most often affected by PAD. Disease symptoms can also affect the arms, head, stomach and kidneys.

Peripheral Artery Disease Risk Factors

Smoking is the number one preventable cause of PAD. Disease risk also increases among people with diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol levels. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (2008), one third of people with heart disease have leg-related peripheral arterial disease.

Ethnicity plays a role in a person’s risk of peripheral artery disease. African Americans have PAD rates twice as high as Caucasians (NHLBI, 2008).

PAD Symptoms

Leg pain and cramping while walking or climbing stairs are the most common PAD disease symptoms, but many cases of PAD cause no symptoms at all. Symptoms that do occur are often mistakenly attributed to aging.

Complications of PAD

Peripheral arterial disease increases the risk of serious cardiovascular conditions, including:

  • Coronary heart disease
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Transient ischemic attack (mini strokes).

In addition, PAD that affects the legs increases the risk of infection in the limbs. Gangrene (tissue death) may occur, which in serious cases requires amputation.

Treating Peripheral Artery Disease

Peripheral artery disease responds well to treatment. Avoiding tobacco products and making lifestyle changes often slows or completely halts PAD disease progression. Cases that require medical intervention may be treated with medication or surgery.


American Heart Association. (2011). About peripheral artery disease (PAD). Retrieved March 2, 2011, from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/More/PeripheralArteryDisease/About-Peripheral-Artery-Disease-PAD_UCM_301301_Article.jsp

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, 2010, from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/pad/pad_what.html