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Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) occurs when plaque buildup reduces blood flow through the arteries. It often happens in the legs and feet, but can also occur elsewhere in the body. If this buildup occurs in the carotid artery (a large artery in the neck), it can be a major contributor to stroke.
Peripheral arteries deliver oxygen-rich blood to the tissues outside the heart. As you age, your arteries become stiffer and thicker. In addition, risk factors, such as smoking and high cholesterol, can damage the artery lining. This allows plaque (a buildup of fat and other materials) to form within the artery walls. The buildup of plaque narrows the space inside the artery and sometimes blocks blood flow.
Other factors that increase your chances of developing the disease include:
Symptoms of peripheral artery disease include:
If peripheral artery disease progresses, you may even experience ischemic rest pain, or pain that occurs when you're at rest or when you're lying down. It may be intense enough to disrupt sleep.
Your healthcare provider will perform a physical exam, including a medical history and questions about your symptoms.
The provider may check your pulse in the areas that are affected and perform the following tests:
If PAD is detected early, you can your disease through lifestyle changes such as:
Your physician may also recommend medication, such as:
In more severe cases, you may also require surgical treatments. The choice of treatment depends on the extent of blockages as well as other factors. Your vascular surgeon will help you determine the best option for your particular situation. Some surgical treatments you may explore include:
In extreme cases and as a last resort, your surgeon may recommend amputating your lower leg or foot. This procedure would only be performed when circulation is severely reduced and cannot be improved by any of the methods already discussed.
Additionally, lifestyle changes may help you manage your PAD, including:
At Dignity Health Heart and Vascular Institute of Greater Sacramento, we offer a number of preventative health programs and tools for our patients. Find out more about how we can help you Stay Heart Healthy.