diseased artery
A normal artery is shown on the left and a diseased artery with significant plaque is on the right.

The University of Chicago Medicine is uniquely positioned in the community to provide advanced treatment for patients who have a higher risk of developing peripheral arterial disease. Peripheral artery disease (PAD), also known as peripheral vascular disease, is most often caused by atherosclerosis — plaque formation in arteries that supply blood to the extremities, such as legs and arms. When these fatty deposits collect in arteries and harden, it narrows the opening and blocks effective blood flow.

Peripheral Artery Disease Symptoms &  Causes

Peripheral artery disease is associated with a range of symptoms, including:

  • Leg cramps during exercise (claudication)
  • Numbness to severe foot pain at rest (rest pain)
  • Wounds in the feet that are slow to heal

If you are experiencing one or more of these symptoms, please reach out to your doctor to evaluate your condition. If you are not proactive about your health, untreated peripheral artery disease can progress to gangrene and potential limb loss.

While some risk factors for developing PAD correlate with existing health concerns, such as family history of atherosclerosis, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, other risk factors can be lessened through behavioral modifications such as increasing activity and stopping smoking.

Diagnosing Peripheral Artery Disease

Peripheral artery disease often is asymptomatic. When pain does occur, it may be mistaken for other conditions. Early diagnosis will reduce the risk of limb loss and the need for more invasive procedures.

Peripheral Arterial Disease Treatment Options

In some cases, our surgeons will help a patient manage their risk of peripheral artery disease through medical treatments and advise an exercise program. For more serious cases, patients may require transluminal balloon angioplasty — the insertion of a catheter (small, thin tube) through an artery in the upper thigh to open an arterial narrowing or blockage.

The most severe cases of peripheral artery disease might require bypass grafting. In this procedure, a surgeon attaches an alternative blood vessel (either a prosthetic tube or the patient's own vein) to the blocked artery, creating a new, unobstructed passage through which blood can flow.