What is PAD (Peripheral Artery Disease)?


Here at Cardiovascular Institute of the South, we place a special focus on the diagnosis and treatment of peripheral artery disease (PAD).  After all, our founder, Dr. Craig Walker, is fully dedicated to the education of innovative treatments for PAD and the advancement of limb salvage, even offering training across the world and starting a limb salvage program in China.  However, despite how immersed we are in the world of PAD, we recognize that many patients are largely unfamiliar with the condition, how it occurs, and the potential complications.  So, allow us to provide you with the basics.

Defining Peripheral Artery Disease

Narrowed arteries can occur virtually anywhere in the body and always represent a certain level of threat to a patient’s health.  In the case of PAD, a form of vascular disease known as atherosclerosis is most often to blame.  A fairly common condition seen in older adults, atherosclerosis is the narrowing of arteries due to the build-up of plaque from fats, cholesterol, or other substances.  When this condition occurs in the extremities (most often the legs), it is classified as peripheral artery disease.

What Factors Contribute to the Development of PAD?

The plaque build-up that is most commonly responsible for PAD is largely influenced by a handful of distinct risk factors, some of which are within the patient’s control.  These include:

  • Smoking
  • Obesity (BMI of 30 or greater)
  • High Cholesterol
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Age (over 50)
  • Family History

In addition to atherosclerosis, PAD can have other, less common, causes.  These can include inflammation of the blood vessels, injury to the limb, radiation exposure, or atypical anatomical development of muscles or ligaments.

What are the Complications Associated with PAD?

While many patients have no symptoms of PAD, the condition does pose a potential health risk.  Those with more advanced forms of PAD may experience complications including the following:

Claudication – Leg pain that occurs with movement such as walking or exercising is known as claudication.  This discomfort often goes away with rest.  However, in more severe cases, the pain may continue even during rest.  Other associated symptoms can include numbness, weakness, and coldness in the lower leg or foot.

Critical Limb Ischemia (CLI) – CLI is a particularly severe form of PAD in which the extremities have difficulty healing from injury or infection.  In some cases, these infections or wounds may not only be slow to heal, they may actually progress, resulting in gangrene, or the death of surrounding tissue.  Eventually, if not treated properly, these complications can lead to the need for amputation.

PAD is a particularly dangerous form of vascular disease of which too many patients are unaware.  While the condition can sneak up silently, the complications it can cause can be life-altering and may even result in the loss of limbs.  Early diagnosis and treatment is key to minimizing the impact of the disease.  If you are already suffering from symptoms of PAD or meet the risk criteria above, contact Cardiovascular Institute of the South.  With a simple, non-invasive test called an ankle brachial index, you can determine your risk for PAD and gain invaluable insight into your health.


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CIS Staff

Written by CIS Staff