Health A-Z

Peripheral Artery Disease

Clinical Definition

Peripheral artery disease is a circulatory disorder that causes a narrowing and stiffening of the peripheral arteries. It most often involves the arteries of the pelvis or the lower extremities, compromising blood flow. Complications can include gangrene and critical limb ischemia. Usually, the condition is due to atherosclerosis. Peripheral artery disease increases a person’s risk of a myocardial infarction up to five times.

In Our Own Words

Peripheral artery disease is a medical condition that causes the arteries away from the heart to narrow. The arteries also become stiff, which prevents them from dilating when there is a demand for increased blood flow. Similar to coronary artery disease, the condition is usually caused by a buildup of plaque (i.e., deposits of fat and cholesterol) on the walls of the arteries. In peripheral artery disease, the arteries of the legs, pelvis and feet are most often involved.

At first, there are no symptoms. The narrowing and stiffening of the arteries leads to reduced blood flow to the legs. Because blood flow cannot keep up with the demand, symptoms often develop. The most common early symptom is called intermittent claudication, which refers to pain in the legs when walking – pain that goes away when the legs are at rest. In cases where blood flow is greatly reduced, the tissue can even start to die, and complications such as gangrene can occur.  People with peripheral artery disease are also at an increased risk for a heart attack or stroke.

Symptoms and Side Effects

  • Pain in the legs or hips
  • Numbness in the legs
  • Sores on the legs that don’t heal
  • Coldness in the legs or feet
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