What is peripheral artery disease?


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 Causes and Risk Factors

The primary cause of peripheral artery disease is atherosclerosis, which can be brought on by the risk factors associated with PAD, such as:

  • Family history of PAD
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • High cholesterol
  • Age (likelihood of atherosclerosis increases after 65)
  • Obesity

Peripheral Artery Disease Symptoms

Common symptoms of peripheral artery disease can include:

  • Leg cramps during exercise (claudication)
  • Numbness to severe foot pain at rest (rest pain)
  • Wounds in the feet that are slow to heal
  • Leg or foot coldness or coloration
  • Slower growth of toenails
  • Soreness of toes, feet or legs that are not healing

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.

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

Our vascular experts offer a full range of medical, nonsurgical and surgical treatment for peripheral artery disease with plans tailored to their specific condition. Based on each patient's individual diagnosis, risk factors, associated conditions and and more, before we recommend the best and safest option. Common treatments may include one or more of the following:

  • Controlling or modifying risk factors: Quit smoking, control blood pressure, manage blood sugar is diabetic/pre-diabetic to manage PAD
  • Medication: Decrease factors such as hyperlipidemia (elevated levels of fats in the blood) and/or high blood pressure
  • Transluminal balloon angioplasty: A minimally invasive procedure using a catheter (small, thin tube) that is inserted through an artery in the upper thigh (femoral artery) to open an arterial narrowing or blockage
  • Radial access balloon angioplasty: Using a drug-coated balloon that allows treatment through the radial artery – inserting of a catheter (small, thin tube) through an artery in the wrist – which offers patients less bleeding, an increase in patient comfort and faster recovery
  • Bypass grafting: A surgical procedure in which an alternative blood vessel (either a prosthetic tube or the patient's own vein) is attached to the blocked artery, creating a new, unobstructed passage through which blood can flow

Request an Appointment

The information you provide will enable us to assist you as efficiently as possible. A representative will contact you within one to two business days to help you schedule an appointment.

To speak to someone directly, please call 1-773-702-6128. If you have symptoms of an urgent nature, please call your doctor or go to the emergency room immediately.

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