We have updated our Online Services Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. See our Cookies Notice for information concerning our use of cookies and similar technologies. By using this website or clicking “I ACCEPT”, you consent to our Online Services Terms of Use.

Peripheral Artery Disease: How to Know If You're at Risk

Older couple on autumn walk

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a serious condition, but you may not know if you have it. Nearly half of those who have PAD have no signs or symptoms.

PAD happens when blood flow in the legs and feet is restricted by the buildup of fatty deposits in the legs’ blood vessels.

Why get treatment for a condition when signs or symptoms may not be noticeable? Untreated, PAD can lead to pain, cramping and discomfort that can make walking – and life in general – miserable, says Mehdi H. Shishehbor, DO, MPH, PhD. Dr. Shishehbor is director of the Interventional Cardiovascular Center and co-director of the Vascular Center at UH Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute.

“In extreme cases, PAD can result in the tissue loss and gangrene, which can ultimately lead to amputation,” Dr. Shishehbor says.

People who have PAD also have a higher risk for heart attack and stroke, he says.

The good news is that early diagnosis and treatment can help you to manage – or even reverse – PAD. So it’s important to understand if you might be at risk and to know the symptoms of PAD.

PAD Risk Factors

Factors that increase your chances of developing PAD include:

  • History of diabetes or heart problems among close relatives such as your parents, sister or brother
  • If you’ve had diabetes or heart problems such as high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, mini-stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA)
  • If you have difficulty controlling your blood pressure on more than three blood pressure medications
  • If you have had surgery, balloon procedures or stents in your heart, kidneys, stomach, legs or arms
  • If your doctor has told you that you have poor circulation
  • If you are inactive
  • If you smoke or have ever smoked

Symptoms of PAD

Dr. Shishehbor says you should tell your doctor if you experience these signs:

  • You have ulcers or sores on your feet or legs that are slow to heal
  • When you walk or exercise, you feel aching, cramping or pain in your legs that goes away when you rest
  • Your toes or feet hurt at night

Even if you don't have symptoms of PAD, you may need to be screened, Dr. Shishehbor says.

“If you are older than 65; older than age 50 and have diabetes or smoke; or if you have diabetes and other PAD risk factors such as being overweight, ask your doctor about screening for PAD,” Dr. Shishehbor says.

How You Can Avoid PAD

Prevention is the key to reducing your risk of developing PAD, Dr. Shishehbor says.

You can help prevent PAD through good health habits such as not smoking, eating a balanced, low-salt and low-fat diet, controlling your blood pressure and sugar and cholesterol levels.

Maintaining a healthy weight and getting regular exercise also helps.

Related Links

University Hospitals Vascular Rehabilitation Program

Discuss your risk and available treatment options with one of our specialists. Call 216-844-3800.

UH offers online self-scheduling for select UH physicians and specialties, including general cardiology. Or use our easy online tool to find a doctor and book an appointment at a time that is convenient for you.