Conditions InDepth: Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)
Arteries carry blood to all the organs of your body. Therefore, any condition that damages arteries can damage the organs to which they supply blood, such as the heart or brain.
When the affected arteries are the ones that carry blood to areas other than the brain and heart, the resulting condition is called peripheral artery disease (PAD).
PAD is similar to coronary artery disease and carotid artery disease. In PAD, fatty deposits build up along artery walls and affect blood circulation. This mainly occurs in arteries leading to the legs and feet. In its early stages, a common symptom is cramping or fatigue in the legs and buttocks during activity. Such cramping subsides with standing still. This is called intermittent claudication. People with PAD have a higher risk of death from stroke and heart attack due to generalized atherosclerosis.
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Atherosclerosis begins in the teen years as deposits of fat and cholesterol in the walls of large arteries. Over decades these deposits, called plaques, enlarge, break down, and calcify, narrowing or completely clogging the artery. The deposits can also produce fragments that break off, travel down the artery, and cause an obstruction to blood flow. If the artery is a coronary artery supplying the heart, a heart attack may result. If the artery supplies the brain, a stroke can occur. If the artery supplies the legs and feet, this may result in claudication, ulcers, or death of the tissue beyond the area where blood flow is stopped.
Last reviewedAugust 2013by Michael J. Fucci, DO; Brian Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.