Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) is caused by progressive thickening of the artery’s lining, also called atherosclerosis. This plaque buildup causes narrowing or blockage of blood flow.
PAD most commonly affects the legs but can affect other areas of the body such as the arteries in the arms.
If this hard plaque surface becomes irregular or ulcerated, it may accumulate small blood clots and plaque contents (emboli) which can break off and travel. These emboli travel in the circulatory system, blocking flow through tiny blood vessels, and can damage sensitive organs, such as the brain, causing a stroke.
If affected arteries are located in the brain, this is considered separately as cerebrovascular disease. Affected arteries in the abdomen that reduce blood flow are considered abdominal aortic branch occlusion.
People with PAD may not experience symptoms until the disease has advanced. Most symptoms are due to the leg muscles not having enough blood.
PAD may be described as occlusive or functional.
Occlusive peripheral arterial disease is due to something that physically narrows or blocks arteries; the most common cause is atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
In functional PAD, blood flow is decreased because the arteries do not function properly. Usually, the dysfunction involves a sudden spasm of the muscles within the walls of the blood vessels. This spasm causes a temporary narrowing that reduces blood flow. Rarely, the condition is due to abnormal relaxation of the muscles within the walls of the blood vessels, leading to a widening (vasodilation) of arteries.
The best way to prevent PAD is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Some ways to do this include:
- Stop smoking.
- Manage your blood sugar.
- Exercise regularly. Aim for 30 to 45 minutes several times a week after you’ve gotten your doctor’s approval.
- Lower your cholesterol and blood pressure levels, if applicable.
- Eat foods that are low in saturated fat.
- Maintain a healthy weight.