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What is PAD?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 30 October 2018
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PAD is an acronym for peripheral artery disease. This condition results when arteries become narrowed and blood flow to the extremities, especially to the legs is reduced. The primary cause of the disease is atherosclerosis, which means that plaque builds up in the arteries. Unfortunately about 90% of people who have early PAD aren’t aware of it, and symptoms may not be present until the disease is advanced.

When symptoms occur, people might note pain in the legs especially when they walk. Other symptoms could be present. These include the legs feeling weak, color change in the legs, loss of hair on the legs, a cold feeling in one leg or foot, or sores that occur on the legs and feet that don’t get better.

When PAD advances, it can be extremely serious. It heightens risk for stroke and heart attack. Sores on the legs could become severely infected to the point where blood infection occurs. Alternately, the legs could develop gangrene and be so damaged due to poor blood flow that amputation is required. More serious PAD will also frequently include leg pain when the legs are at rest.

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As previously stated, one of the most common causes of PAD is atherosclerosis. Other conditions like a blood clot might cause peripheral artery disease. Though rare, injury or infection can create sudden development of the condition. Those most at risk for PAD include smokers, the obese, people with diabetes, anyone over the age of 50, people with a history of the condition, or anyone with heart disease.

Symptoms shouldn’t be ignored, and anyone suspecting PAD should see a doctor. There are various tests to determine presence of this condition. These can include blood tests, sonograms of arteries, and physical exam. One common test is called the ankle-brachial index, and this involves measuring blood pressure on the arm and the leg to determine if there is a significant difference. Occasionally doctors will also opt to perform procedures like catheterization (angiogram) to look at the degree to which arteries are narrowed or to find presence of blood clots.

When peripheral artery disease is diagnosed, some people are able to stop the disease by doing things like quitting smoking or losing weight. Not everyone can be treated in this manner. Some will need medications to lower cholesterol, reduce blood pressure, prevent blood clotting, or treat diabetes.

Occasionally a more invasive approach is needed. Via catheterization, doctors may open blocked arteries with balloons (balloon angioplasty) or they may place stents that help keep arteries open. Alternately, surgery can be necessary to bypass arteries that are extremely blocked in order to provide better blood flow to the limbs. Many people do not need this extent of treatment.

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