Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a progressive narrowing of the blood vessels most often caused by atherosclerosis, the collection of plaque or a fatty substance along the inner lining of the artery wall. Over time, this substance hardens and thickens, which may interfere with blood circulation to the arms, legs, stomach and kidneys. Blood circulation to the brain and heart may be reduced, increasing your risk for stroke and heart disease.
While PAD can affect anyone, one of out three diabetics over age 50 has the disease.
If untreated, it may result in severe disability and in serious cases, leg amputation. Up to 70 percent of all limb amputations not caused by trauma are performed on diabetics with severe PAD.
Other symptoms include:
In making a diagnosis of peripheral artery disease (PAD), your doctor will take your complete medical history and conduct a physical exam. You will also have one or more of the following tests to confirm a diagnosis:
You may also have blood tests to measure your cholesterol, homocysteine, an amino acid in the blood, and certain proteins.
Cardiologists, cardiac and vascular surgeons, interventional radiologists and other specialists work together to provide the most effective treatments — many of them developed at UCSF — for peripheral artery disease, or PAD.
Your treatment will depend on the severity of your PAD. Many patients can be managed with non-invasive therapies such as lifestyle changes, medication, or both. If your condition does not respond to these approaches, surgery may be necessary. In the most advanced cases, limb amputation may be required.
Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.