Peripheral Arterial Disease aka PVD or Claudication
What Is Peripheral Arterial Disease?
Peripheral arterial disease (P.A.D.) is a disease in which plaque builds up in the arteries that
carry blood to your limbs. Plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium,
fibrous tissue, and other substances in the blood.
When plaque builds up in the body's arteries, the condition is called atherosclerosis. Over time,
plaque can harden and narrow the arteries. This limits the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your
organs and other parts of your body.
Atherosclerosis affects arteries in the legs, head, arms, kidneys, and stomach. This article focuses on P.A.D. that
affects blood flow to the legs.
Normal Artery and Artery With Plaque Buildup
705 Garfield Avenue, Suite 460
Parkersburg, WV 26101
The illustration shows how P.A.D. can affect arteries in the legs. Figure A shows a normal
artery with normal blood flow. The inset image shows a cross-section of the normal artery.
Figure B shows an artery with plaque buildup that's partially blocking blood flow. The inset
image shows a cross-section of the narrowed artery.
Blocked blood flow to your legs can cause pain and numbness. It also can raise your risk of
getting an infection in the affected limbs. Your body may have a hard time fighting the infection.
If severe enough, blocked blood flow can cause gangrene (tissue death). In very serious cases,
this can lead to leg amputation.
If you have leg pain when you walk or climb stairs, talk with your doctor. Sometimes older
people think that leg pain is just a symptom of aging. However, the cause of the pain could be
P.A.D. Tell your doctor if you're feeling pain in your legs and discuss whether you should be
tested for P.A.D.
Smoking is the main risk factor for P.A.D. If you smoke or have a history of smoking, your risk
of P.A.D. increases up to four times. Other factors, such as age and having certain diseases or
conditions, also increase your risk of P.A.D.
P.A.D. increases your risk of coronary heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and transient ischemic
attack. If you have coronary heart disease, you have a 1 in 3 chance of having blocked leg
Although P.A.D. is serious, it's treatable. If you have the disease, see your doctor regularly and
treat the underlying atherosclerosis.
P.A.D. treatment may slow or stop disease progress and reduce the risk of complications.
Treatments include lifestyle changes, medicines, and angioplasty/stenting or surgery. Researchers
continue to explore new therapies for P.A.D.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Peripheral Arterial Disease?
Some people who have peripheral arterial disease (P.A.D.) don't have any signs or symptoms. Others may have many signs and symptoms such as:
People who have P.A.D. may have symptoms when walking or climbing stairs. These symptoms may include pain, numbness, aching, or heaviness in the leg muscles.
Symptoms also may include cramping in the affected leg(s) and in the buttocks, thighs, calves, and feet. Symptoms may ease after resting.
These symptoms are called intermittent claudication. During physical activity, your muscles need increased blood flow. If your blood vessels are narrowed or blocked, your muscles won't get enough blood, which will lead to symptoms. When resting, the muscles need less blood flow, so the symptoms will go away.
About 10 percent of people who have P.A.D. have claudication. This symptom is more likely in people who also have atherosclerosis in other arteries.
Other Signs and Symptoms
Other signs and symptoms of P.A.D. include:
- Weak or absent pulses in the legs or feet
- Sores or wounds on the toes, feet, or legs that heal slowly, poorly, or not at all
- A pale or bluish color to the skin
- A lower temperature in one leg compared to the other leg
- Poor nail growth on the toes and decreased hair growth on the legs
- Erectile dysfunction, especially among men who have diabetes
Please call with any questions:
Daniel J. McGraw, MD