When leg arteries become narrowed or blocked by plaque it causes peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD), a condition that raises the risk of heart attack, stroke, leg amputation and death. As patients are unaware of this condition generally, PAD remains under-diagnosed and under-treated. In PAD, characteristically, there is a reduction in blood flow to the lower extremities due to plaque build-up in the leg arteries (also known as atherosclerosis). A combination of fats, cholesterol and other substances constitutes plaque. Size of plaque can grow to significantly reduce blood flow through an artery.
Blood flow to the legs and feet is reduced when leg arteries are hardened and clogged. Peripheral arteries remain blocked, completely or partially, and cause pain, changes in skin color and temperature, sores or ulcers and difficulty walking. PAD, if left untreated, can lead to Critical Limb Ischemia (CLI), a condition where not enough blood is being delivered to the leg to keep the tissue alive. Gangrene ensues due to total loss of circulation to the legs and feet leading to amputation. Hardened arteries, in addition, found in people with PAD are a sign that they are likely to have hardened and narrowed arteries to the heart and the brain. That is why people with PAD are at high risk for having a heart attack or a stroke. They may become disabled and not be able to go to work, with poor quality of life.
PAD is a chronic disease with risk factors that include:
- Cigarette smoking
- Being overweight (a body mass index over 30)
- Raised blood pressure (140/90 millimeters of mercury or higher)
- High cholesterol (total blood cholesterol over 240 milligrams per deciliter)
- Advancing age, especially after reaching 50 years of age
- Positive family history of peripheral artery disease, heart disease or stroke
- Increased homocysteine, a protein component that helps build and maintain tissue
Smokers or people with diabetes have the greatest risk of developing peripheral artery disease due to reduced blood flow.