Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is a common circulatory problem in
which narrowed arteries reduce the blood flow to your limbs.
When you develop peripheral arterial disease, your extremities —
usually your legs — don't get enough blood flow to keep up with demand.
This causes various symptoms, most notably leg pain when walking — a condition
called intermittent claudication.
Peripheral arterial disease is
likely to be a sign of widespread atherosclerosis which is an accumulation of fatty deposits in
your arteries. This condition may reduce blood
flow to your heart and brain.
Peripheral arterial disease refers to a problem
with any of the arteries outside, or peripheral to, your heart, but the
term is commonly used to describe circulatory problems in your limbs or
You can often successfully treat peripheral arterial disease with
exercise, a healthy diet and, most important, by not using any tobacco products. Early diagnosis and treatment are important to stop the
progression of peripheral arterial disease and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Half of all people with peripheral arterial disease have mild or
no symptoms. About one-third to one-half develop more severe symptoms,
including intermittent claudication. Intermittent claudication is characterized by muscle pain or
cramping in your legs or arms that is triggered by a certain amount of
activity, such as walking, but disappears after a few minutes of rest.
The location of the pain depends on the location of the clogged or
narrowed artery. Calf pain is most common.
The severity of intermittent claudication varies widely. Pain from
this condition can range from mildly bothersome to debilitating. Severe
intermittent claudication can impair your ability to function and
engage in any physical activity.
Other signs and symptoms of peripheral arterial disease include:
- Leg numbness or weakness
- Cold legs or feet
- Sores on your toes, feet or legs that won't heal
- A change in the color of your legs
- Hair loss on your feet and legs
- Changes in your nails
If peripheral arterial disease progresses, pain may even occur when
you're at rest or when you're lying down. This is called ischemic rest
pain. It may be intense enough to prevent sleep or wake you from sleep.
You may be able to temporarily relieve the pain by hanging your legs
over the edge of your bed or by walking.