Peripheral Artery Disease

What is PAD?

PAD is short for Peripheral Artery Disease. People have PAD when the arteries in their legs become narrowed or clogged with fatty deposits, or plaque. The buildup of plaque causes the arteries to harden and narrow, which is called atherosclerosis. When leg arteries are hardened and clogged, blood flow to the legs and feet is reduced. Some people call this poor circulation.

PAD occurs most often in the arteries in the legs, but it also can affect other arteries that carry blood outside the heart. This includes arteries that go to the aorta, the brain, the arms, the kidneys and the stomach. When arteries inside the heart are hardened or narrowed, it is called coronary artery disease or cardiovascular disease.

The good news is that like other diseases related to the arteries, PAD can be treated by making lifestyle changes, by taking medicines, or by having endovascular or surgical procedures, if needed.

Is PAD serious?
Lower-extremity PAD is a serious disease that affects about 8 million Americans. The hardened arteries found in people with PAD are a sign that they are likely to have hardened and narrowed arteries to the heart and the brain. That is why people with PAD are at high risk for having a heart attack or a stroke.

When the blood flow to the legs is greatly (or severely) reduced, people with PAD may have pain when walking. PAD may cause other problems that can lead to amputation. People with PAD may become disabled and not be able to go to work. As time goes on, they may have a very poor quality of life.


Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) is also known as atherosclerosis, poor circulation, or hardening of the arteries. PAD progresses over time at variable rates in each individual depending on the area of circulation effected and one’s health and family history. The signs and symptoms of PAD may not arise until later in life. For many, the outward indications will not appear until the artery has narrowed by 60 percent or more.

One method the body uses to adapt to the narrowed arteries is the development of smaller peripheral arteries that allow blood flow around the narrowed area. This process is known as collateral circulation and may help explain why many can have PAD without feeling any symptoms.

When a piece of cholesterol, calcium or blood clot abruptly breaks from the lining of the artery or a narrowed artery blocks off completely, blood flow will be totally obstructed and the organ supplied by that artery will suffer damage. The organs in PAD most commonly affected and researched are the legs.

What happens if the disease worsens?

The severity of PAD depends on when it is detected and any pre-existing health factors; especially smoking, high cholesterol, heart disease or diabetes. In the later stages, leg circulation may be so poor that pain occurs in the toes and feet during periods of inactivity or rest. This is especially true at night. This is known as rest pain, which usually worsens when the legs are elevated and is often relieved by lowering the legs (due to the effects of gravity on the blood flow).

Critical Limb Ischemia

The most advanced stages of PAD can lead to Critical Limb Ischemia (CLI) . Here the legs and feet have such severe blockage that they do not receive the oxygen rich blood required for growth and repair of painful sores and even gangrene (dead tissue). This condition, if left untreated, may require amputation.

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