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Facts about Peripheral Arterial Disease (P.A.D.)
One in every 20 Americans over the age of 50 has P.A.D., a condition that raises the risk for heart attack and stroke.
Peripheral arterial disease, or P.A.D., develops when your arteries become clogged with plaque—fatty deposits that limit blood flow to your legs. Just like clogged arteries in the heart, clogged arteries in the legs mean you are at risk for having a heart attack or stroke. Plaque buildup in the legs does not always cause symptoms, so many people can have P.A.D. and not know it. People who do experience symptoms, such as pain or cramping in the legs, often do not report them, believing they are a natural part of aging or due to another cause. In all, P.A.D. affects 8 to 12 million people in the United States, especially those over 50. You can lower your risk for P.A.D. This fact sheet answers key questions about P.A.D. and provides steps you can take to reduce your risk. Timely detection and treatment of P.A.D. can improve the quality of your life; help you keep your independence and mobility; and reduce your risk of heart attack, stroke, leg amputation, and even death. Taking steps to learn about P.A.D., including asking your health care provider to check your risk, can help you stay in circulation longer to enjoy your life.
What is P.A.D.?
Peripheral arterial disease—also known as P.A.D.—is a common, yet serious, disease. It occurs when extra cholesterol and other fats circulating in the blood collect in the walls of the arteries that supply blood to your limbs. This buildup—called plaque—narrows your arteries, often reducing or blocking the flow of blood. P.A.D. is most commonly seen in the legs, but also can be present in the arteries that carry blood from your heart to your head, arms, kidneys, and stomach. Nearly everyone who has P.A.D.—even those who do not have leg symptoms—suffers from an inability to walk as fast or as far as they could before P.A.D.
What Causes P.A.D?
The cause of plaque buildup in the limbs is unknown in most cases. However, there are some conditions and habits that raise your chance of developing P.A.D.
Your risk increases if you:
What are the Signs and Symptoms of P.A.D.?
If they are present, the typical signs and symptoms of the disease include:
However, most people with P.A.D. do not experience symptoms.
If you believe you are at risk for P.A.D., discuss this concern with your health care provider. Find out if you should be tested for P.A.D and what you can do to lower your risk.
How is P.A.D. Diagnosed?
Many types of health care providers diagnose and treat P.A.D. Whether you see a family physician, internist, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner, the first step is to ask about your risk for P.A.D. Your provider will take a medical and family history, perform a physical exam, and conduct diagnostic tests. In addition, there are many specialists who take care of patients with P.A.D., including: vascular medicine specialists, vascular surgeons, cardiologists, podiatrists, and interventional radiologists.
Medical and Family History
Questions to Ask Your Health Care Provider
How is P.A.D. Treated?
The overall goals for treating P.A.D. are to reduce any symptoms, improve quality of life and mobility, and prevent heart attack, stroke, and amputation.
There are three main approaches to treating P.A.D.: making lifestyle changes; taking medication; and in some cases, having a special procedure or surgery. Your health care provider will determine the best treatment options for you, based on your medical history and the severity of your condition.
Special Procedures and Surgeries
Stay in Circulation: Take Steps to Learn About P.A.D. is a national awareness campaign to increase public and health care provider awareness about peripheral arterial disease (P.A.D.) and its association with other cardiovascular diseases. The campaign is sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute—part of the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services—in cooperation with the P.A.D. Coalition, an alliance of national organizations and professional societies united to improve the health and health care of people with P.A.D.
To Learn More
For additional information about P.A.D. and to download free patient education materials, please visit the following Web sites:
Stay in Circulation: Take Steps to Learn About P.A.D
NHLBI Health Topics: Peripheral Arterial Disease (P.A.D.)
NHLBI Health Information Center