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​​​What is Peripheral Artery Disease?

Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) affects about 8 million Americans. Left untreated, PAD can lead to heart attack, stroke​, high blood pressure​, kidney failure, heart disease, heart failure, or amputation.

Peripheral artery disease is a disease in which plaque builds up in the arteries that carry blood to your head, organs, and 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.

PAD usually affects the arteries in the legs, but it also can affect the arteries that carry blood from your heart to your head, arms, kidneys, and stomach. This information will focus on PAD that affects blood flow to the legs.

Overview

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 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 PAD. Tell your doctor if you're feeling pain in your legs and discuss whether you should be tested for PAD.

Outlook

PAD increases your risk of coronary heart disease, hea​rt attack​, stroke, and transient ischemic attack ("mini-stroke"). Although PAD is serious, it's treatable. If you have the disease, see your doctor regularly and treat the underlying atherosclerosis. PAD treatment may slow or stop disease progress and reduce the risk of complications. Treatments include lifestyle changes, medicines, and surgery or procedures. Researchers continue to explore new therapies for PAD.

Who is at Risk for Peripheral Artery Disease?

Peripheral artery disease affects millions of people in the United States. The disease is more common in African Americans than any other racial or ethnic group. The major risk factors for PAD are smoking, older age, and having certain diseases or conditions.

Smoking

Smoking​ is the main risk factor for PAD and your risk increases if you smoke or have a history of smoking. Quitting smoking slows the progress of PAD. People who smoke and people who have diabetes are at highest risk for PAD complications, such as gangrene in the leg from decreased blood flow.

Older Age

Older age also is a risk factor for PAD. Plaque builds up in your arteries as you age. Older age combined with other risk factors, such as smoking or diabetes, also puts you at higher risk for PAD.

Disease and Conditions

Many diseases and conditions can raise your risk of PAD, including:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood cholesterol
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Metabolic Syndrome

Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Why The Heart Hospital?

The Heart Hospital Baylor Plano ​is home to one of the busiest vascular disease treatment programs in the country. However, it's not the volume, but rather the all-encompassing nature of our peripheral vascular services, advanced procedures and technologies offered, and outcomes that set us apart from so many other programs. Besides a robust portfolio of minimally invasive surgical interventions, we offer non-invasive studies of arteries and veins and always attempt non-surgical treatments when possible.

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