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Peripheral Artery Disease

Peripheral artery disease, also called peripheral arterial disease, is a common circulatory problem created by narrowed arteries that reduce the flow of blood to the limbs.

Peripheral artery disease is often an indicator of a more widespread accumulation of fatty deposits in your arteries, called atherosclerosis. This condition may be reducing blood flow to your heart and brain, in addition to your limbs.

CausesPeripheral artery disease is often caused by atherosclerosis, where fatty deposits, called plaques, build up in the artery walls causing reduced blood flow. While the heart is typically the focus when speaking of atherosclerosis, this condition can and does affect arteries throughout the body. When it specifically impacts the arteries responsible for supplying blood to your limbs, it causes peripheral artery disease.

Other, less common causes of peripheral artery disease include:

  • Blood vessel inflammation
  • Injury to your limbs
  • Unusual anatomy of your ligaments or muscles
  • Radiation exposure

SymptomsMany people with peripheral artery disease experience very mild symptoms or none at all, while others experience leg pain while walking, called claudication.

Claudication symptoms include muscle pain or cramping in your legs or arms triggered by activity but disappearing after a few minutes of rest. The location of the pain depends on the location of the clogged or narrowed artery, the calf being the most common region.

Diagnosis Peripheral artery disease is most typically diagnosed through a physical exam by your doctor, checking for signs of symptoms of the condition. These include weak or absent artery pulses in the extremities, bruits (sounds heard through a stethoscope), blood pressure changes, and skin/hair colour and nail changes.

Imaging tests can also be used to aid in the diagnosis of the condition.

TreatmentThe treatment plan for peripheral artery disease has two major goals: to manage symptoms, allowing for physical activity and a better quality of life, and to stop the progression of atherosclerosis throughout the body. This is crucial to reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.

Lifestyle changes may be useful in accomplishing these goals. Quitting smoking is the single most important change you can make to reduce your risk of complications. If lifestyle changes are not enough, you may need additional medical treatment.