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What is Peripheral Arterial Disease? - Part 1

August 29, 2012

Peripheral arterial disease refers to a circulatory problem that is caused by insufficient blood flow to the limbs due to the narrowing of arteries. This disease usually affects the legs.

Causes and Risk Factors

peripheral artery diseaseThe most common cause of peripheral arterial disease is atherosclerosis, a condition that results from the accumulation of fatty deposits in the arteries. Although it is often associated with heart disease, atherosclerosis can affect arteries in many parts of the body as well. When it affects arteries that supply blood to the limbs, it leads to peripheral arterial disease. Although less commonly, peripheral arterial disease can also be caused by injury to the limbs, blood vessel inflammation, unusual anatomy of muscles and ligaments, or exposure to radiation.

There are a number of factors that can raise the risk of peripheral arterial disease, and they include diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high levels of homocysteine, obesity, smoking, age, and a family history of peripheral arterial disease, cardiovascular disease, or stroke. Smoking and diabetes are the greatest risk factors for peripheral arterial disease because they can reduce blood flow.


Common symptoms of peripheral arterial disease include:

  • Painful intermittent cramping in the hip or leg muscles after walking, climbing stairs, or other physical activities
  • Weakness or numbness in the leg
  • Coldness in the lower part of the leg or foot
  • Sores on legs, feet, or toes that will not heal
  • Hair loss on the legs and feet
  • Change in the color of the legs
  • Shiny skin on the legs
  • Slower growth of toenails
  • Weak or no pulse in the legs or feet
  • Erectile dysfunction

In our next post, we will talk about the diagnosis, treatment, and management of peripheral arterial disease.

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