Peripheral artery disease - legs


Peripheral artery disease is a condition of the blood vessels that leads to narrowing and hardening of the arteries that supply the legs and feet.

The narrowing of the blood vessels leads to decreased blood flow, which can injure nerves and other tissues.

Alternative Names

Peripheral vascular disease; PVD; PAD; Arteriosclerosis obliterans; Blockage of leg arteries; Claudication; Intermittent claudication; Vaso-occlusive disease of the legs; Arterial insufficiency of the legs; Recurrent leg pain and cramping; Calf pain with exercise


Peripheral artery disease is caused by arteriosclerosis, or "hardening of the arteries." This problem occurs when fatty material (plaque) builds up on the walls of your arteries. This causes the arteries to become narrower. The walls of the arteries also become stiffer and cannot widen (dilate) to allow greater blood flow when needed.

As a result, when the muscles of your legs are working harder (such as during exercise or walking) they cannot get enough blood and oxygen. Eventually, there may not be enough blood and oxygen, even when the muscles are resting.

Peripheral artery disease is a common disorder that usually affects men over age 50. People are at higher risk if they have a history of:


The classic symptoms are pain, achiness, fatigue, burning, or discomfort in the muscles of your feet, calves, or thighs. These symptoms usually appear during walking or exercise and go away after several minutes of rest.

When peripheral artery disease becomes severe, you may have:

Exams and Tests

During an examination, the health care provider may find:

When PAD is more severe, findings may include:

Blood tests may show high cholesterol or diabetes.

Tests for peripheral artery disease:



Medications may be needed to control the disorder, including:

If you are taking medicines for high blood pressure or diabetes, take them as your doctor has prescribed.

Surgery may be performed if the condition is severe and is affecting your ability to work or do important activities, or you are having pain at rest. Options are:

Some people with peripheral artery disease may need to have the limb removed (amputated). See: Leg or foot amputation.

Outlook (Prognosis)

You can usually control peripheral artery disease of the legs without surgery. Surgery provides good symptom relief in severe cases.

For complications, the affected leg or foot may need to be amputated.

Possible Complications

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if you have:


Mills JL. Lower extremity arterial disease. In: Cronenwett JL, Johnston W, eds. Rutherford's Vascular Surgery. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:section 15.

Creager MA, Libby P. Peripheral arterial disease. In: Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders; 2011:chap 61.

Wong PF, Chong LY, Mikhailidis DP, Robless P, Stansby G. Antiplatelet agents for intermittent claudication. Cochrane Database Syst Rev.  2011. Issue 11. Art No.: CD001272. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001272.pub2.

Watson L, Ellis B, Leng GC. Exercise for intermittent claudication. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008. Issue 4. Art No.: CD000990. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD000990.pub2.

Review Date: 5/14/2012
Reviewed By: Shabir Bhimji, MD, PhD, Specializing in Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgery, Midland, TX. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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