Treatment Heart & Vascular

Peripheral Artery Disease

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.

Lifestyle Changes:

  • Smoking cessation
  • Diabetes control
  • Blood pressure management
  • Physical activity
  • Diet low in saturated fats
  • Cholesterol medication


  • Medications to prevent blood clots, called antiplatelet therapy, such as aspirin or clopidigrel
  • Medications to lower your cholesterol, called statins, such as simvastatin, atorvastatin or pravastatin
  • Medications that may help you walk, such as cilostazol or pentoxifylline
  • Medications to treat your high blood pressure, called ACE inhibitors


If your condition worsens or does not improve with lifestyle changes and medications, bypass surgery, endarterectomy or endovascular intervention may be necessary. The type of procedure recommended will depend on the size and location of your blockage.

Bypass surgery creates a detour, or bypass, around the blocked artery so that blood can flow normally. To create this bypass, your vascular surgeon uses a graft, which can be made from part of one of your veins or from a made-made synthetic tube. This bypass is surgically attached to replace the artery that is blocked, creating a new path for blood to flow to your leg tissues.

Endarterectomy is surgical removal of plaque from the blocked artery. During the procedure, your vascular surgeon will make an incision in your artery to remove the plaque in the artery's inner lining, restoring normal blood flow. The effectiveness of endarterectomy depends on the location and severity of your blockage. It may be performed with other procedures, such as bypass surgery.

Endovascular therapies are minimally invasive non-surgical techniques that open or widen arteries that have become narrowed or blocked. In a procedure called balloon angioplasty, a catheter is inserted into a leg or arm artery and fed into the blocked peripheral artery. A balloon, connected to the catheter, is expanded to open the artery. Surgeons may then place a wire mesh tube, called a stent, at the area of blockage to keep the artery open.

UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.

Recommended reading

Heart and Vascular Disease: Prevention Tips

The UCSF Nutrition Counseling Clinic answers questions about nutrition and heart health including, some of the biggest myths about heart-healthy foods.

Heart and Vascular Disease: The Facts

Here are some tips from the UCSF Heart & Vascular Center to keep yourself informed and lower your risk of becoming another heart and vascular disease statistic.

Heart and Vascular Disease: The Risk Factors

Cardiovascular disease — disorders of the heart or blood vessels — is the number one cause of death and disability among adults in the U.S. Learn more.

Smoking and Heart Disease

The leading cause of death among smokers is not lung cancer — it is heart disease. 142,600 annual deaths are due to heart and vascular disease. Learn more.

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