written by

Greg Martin, MD

Dr. Gregory Martin is a vascular and interventional radiologist in Denver, CO

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October 12, 2021, ,

Peripheral Artery Disease: Greg Martin, MD, on Colorado & Company

Peripheral artery disease is a common circulatory problem in which narrowed arteries reduce blood flow to the limbs, usually the legs. When your legs do not receive enough blood flow to keep up with demand, this condition causes leg pain when walking. This is called “intermittent claudication,” because the leg pain stops when you rest.

Unfortunately, PAD can go undiagnosed. Left untreated, peripheral artery disease can be dangerous, because it can lead to painful symptoms: loss of a leg, increased risk of coronary artery disease and carotid atherosclerosis. Peripheral artery disease may also be a sign of a more widespread accumulation of fatty deposits in your arteries (atherosclerosis). Such a condition may be reducing blood flow to your heart and brain, as well as your legs. People with PAD have an increased risk for heart attack and stroke.

What are the symptoms of peripheral artery disease (PAD)?

The most common symptom of PAD is a painful muscle cramping in the hips, thighs or calves when walking, climbing stairs or exercising.

The pain of PAD usually goes away when you stop exercising, although this may take a few minutes. Working muscles need more blood flow. Resting muscles can get by with less blood flow. If there’s a blood-flow blockage due to plaque buildup, the muscles won’t get enough blood during exercise to meet the needs.

This crampy pain (called intermittent claudication), when caused by PAD, is the muscles’ way of warning the body that it is not receiving enough blood during exercise to meet the increased demand.

Many people with PAD have no symptoms or mistake their symptoms for something else.

How common is PAD?

PAD affects approximately 12 percent of the U.S. population, or approximately 8 to 12 million Americans.The prevalence of the disease increases with age. As the population ages, the prevalence may reach somewhere between 9.6 million and 16 million in those age 65 and older.

PAD affects men and women equally. Studies suggest a disproportionately higher prevalence of PAD among African Americans compared with non-Hispanic whites.

How is peripheral artery disease diagnosed?

PAD diagnosis begins with a physical examination.

How is PAD treated?

If it is determined that minimally invasive treatment or surgery may be needed, your interventional radiologist will explain the recommended course of action. Minimally invasive procedures consist of angioplasty and/or stent placement (clot-removal treatment). Both procedures are nonsurgical.

Learn more on our Peripheral Artery Disease page.