Overview and Images of Peripheral Artery Disease

Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is caused when one or more arteries in your arms or legs are narrowed or blocked by plaque, a fatty substance that builds up inside artery walls.

Symptoms: It can cause pain that feels like a dull cramp or heavy tiredness in your hips or legs when you exercise or climb stairs. This pain is sometimes called claudication. If PAD worsens, it can cause cold skin on your feet or legs, skin color changes, and sores that don't heal.

Causes: As with coronary artery disease, the most common cause of PAD is atherosclerosis (buildup of fatty plaque in the walls of the blood vessels). In some cases, PAD may be caused by blood clots that lodge in the arteries and restrict blood flow.

These drawings show the process of atherosclerosis. Fat, cholesterol, and other substances build up in the arteries. Over time, this narrows the arteries – and limits the amount of blood that passes through them to the tissue in your arms and legs.

Diagnostic Tests for Peripheral Artery Disease

  • Ankle-Brachial Index

    An Ankle Brachial Index (ABI) test is a test for peripheral artery disease that compares the blood pressure in your ankle and your arm.

  • Peripheral Vascular Study

    A Peripheral Vascular Study (PVS) is an ultrasound exam that screens for problems in the vessels of the abdomen, head, neck, legs and arms.

  • Peripheral Angiogram

    A peripheral angiogram is a diagnostic study which maps the blood vessels in the legs and lower body.

Treatments for Peripheral Artery Disease

Your doctor will discuss your treatment options with you. Possible treatments for peripheral artery disease include:

  • Medications

    You might receive medication to help control your cholesterol or blood pressure, help your body remove extra fluid, keep your blood from clotting easily, or help clear your arteries.

  • Compression Stockings

    Special stockings, sometimes called T.E.D. hose, squeeze your lower legs to help keep the blood flowing.

  • Angioplasty

    Angioplasty is a treatment in which a catheter with a deflated balloon at the tip is inserted into a narrowed artery. The balloon is then inflated at the site of the narrowing to help widen the artery and improve blood flow.

  • Stent Placement

    Stent placement is a procedure where a small metal coil or tube is inserted into a narrowed artery to hold it open.

  • Surgery

    Surgery might be used to remove faulty veins, repair vein valves, bypass a section of blocked artery, or clean out plaque buildup.

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