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About Heart Disease

Peripheral Artery Disease

Peripheral Artery Disease or P.A.D. is a common vascular disease in which arteries narrowed by plaque build up reducing blood flow to the legs, arms, or other vital organs. This disease is caused by atherosclerosis or “hardening of the arteries “. The most common symptom is pain in the muscles in your legs which usually occurs when walking and goes away at rest. When severe, P.A.D can cause severe lifestyle limitations due to pain, non-healing ulcers or sores or gangrene. Also important, the presence of P.A.D. is a sign of more widespread vascular disease or hardening of the arteries. People with P.A.D. have a much higher risk of heart attack and stroke.


Factors that are associated with an increased risk of developing P.A.D. include:

  • high blood pressure
  • tobacco use
  • high cholesterol levels
  • diabetes
  • obesity
  • increasing age
  • physical inactivity

Unfortunately, many people with P.A.D. have mild or no symptoms and are unaware of their higher risk for heart attack or stroke. Leg pain, called intermittent claudication, can occur in 1 out 10 people with P.A.D. This pain is characterized by tightness, burning, or cramping pain triggered by activity such as walking and relieved in a few minutes with rest. The location of the pain depends on the location of the blocked artery. Pain in the calf muscles is the most common location. Other signs and symptoms include:

  • leg pain with activity
  • leg numbness or weakness
  • loss of hair on your lower leg and feet
  • non-healing sores or ulcers on your leg
  • discoloration of the legs and feet

A physical examination and history may identify signs or symptoms of P.A.D. When P.A.D. is suspected a simple test called the Ankle-Brachial Index or ABI can confirm the presence of P.A.D. This test is performed by comparing the blood pressure in the legs to the blood pressure in the arms and creating a numerical ratio. An ABI value equal to or greater than 0.9 is considered normal. SafeHeart Health Screens’ medical technicians perform an ABI as part of our cardiovascular risk assessment. Additional testing with ultrasound imaging and segmental blood pressure and volume measurements or angiography is often used to evaluate the severity of P.A.D.