Many people don’t notice anything at first, but you may begin to have symptoms as PAD progresses.
Not enough blood flowing to the leg muscles in your calf or thigh can cause pain or cramping in the legs while walking that gets better when you stop. Some people with PAD say they have heaviness in the legs, weakness, or a feeling that their legs may give out.
Over time, people with PAD might limit what they do so they don’t feel pain. They might walk more slowly or even use a cane. With PAD, it’s normal to have some pain when you’re moving around. In fact, exercising to the point of mild to moderate discomfort has benefits. However, the pain should not be severe, and it should go away when you stop exercising.
In later stages of PAD, you may have:
- Pain or cramping in your limbs while at rest
- Cool or discolored skin
- Wounds that don’t heal, or heal slowly
- Sudden loss of blood supply that can lead to surgery to remove a leg or even death
What Increases Your Risk?
There are a number of factors that make it more likely for people to have peripheral artery disease (PAD).
Common risk factors include:
Older age: Being older than 65 increases the chance you will have PAD
Smoking: Smoking is the most important risk factor that you can control. A person who smokes can get PAD 10 years earlier than someone who doesn’t. Furthermore, people who use tobacco have poorer survival rates and a greater chance of developing wounds that don’t heal. People who smoke more often have blockages that happen again after arteries are cleaned out and less success after bypass surgery when compared with people who don’t smoke.
Diabetes: Diabetes increases the risk of developing PAD by up to four times and leads to an increased risk of cardiovascular events and early death. Diabetes (and poor foot care) is a common cause of loss of foot or leg (amputation) in the United States. If you have diabetes, it’s very important to manage the condition.
High blood pressure: High blood pressure increases your chance of atherosclerosis, including PAD. As many as 9 out of 10 patients with PAD have high blood pressure.
High cholesterol: An elevated cholesterol level has been associated with twice the risk for chronic leg pain. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, more than 6 out of 10 patients with PAD had high cholesterol.
Family history: Family history of atherosclerosis in first-degree relatives – such as your mother or father – is also a risk factor for PAD.
Metabolic syndrome: Metabolic syndrome (the combination of obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar) increases the risk for PAD, as it does for coronary artery disease.
Other risk factors: Being Black or Hispanic, or having chronic kidney disease also are associated with increased risk of PAD.