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What is Peripheral Arterial Disease?

Peripheral arterial disease (PAD), also known as peripheral vascular disease, atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, is a disorder that occurs in the arteries of the circulatory system. Arteries are the blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrient-rich blood from the heart to all areas of the body. PAD occurs in the arteries that carry blood to the arms and legs.

What Are the Symptoms of PAD?

PAD can build up over a lifetime, and the symptoms may not become obvious until later in life. For many people, the outward symptoms will not appear until the artery has narrowed by 60 percent or more.

The first noticeable symptom of PAD may be intermittent claudication: leg discomfort, pain, or cramping that develops with activity, is relieved with rest, and recurs upon resuming activity. The pain is often noticed in the calf, but may also be felt in the buttocks or thighs. Intermittent claudication symptoms may also include numbness, weakness, heaviness, or fatigue in the leg muscles when walking that are relieved at rest. The pain can be severe enough to interfere with normal walking. This type of cyclical pain is caused by reduced blood flow to the leg muscles and goes away at rest because the muscles require less blood flow at rest.

Other symptoms of advanced PAD may include:

  • A burning or aching pain in the feet and toes while resting, especially at night while lying flat
  • Cool skin in the feet
  • Redness or other color changes of the skin
  • Increased occurrence of infection
  • Toe and foot sores that do not heal

Many people with PAD do not have any symptoms.