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Peripheral artery disease

It's like having heart disease in your legs

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July 14th, 2014
man holding leg
man holding leg

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a chronic disease of the arteries affecting (most often) the pelvis and legs. The disease process is essentially the same as that of coronary heart disease (CHD), but PAD is not as common. About 20% of Americans over age 65 have CHD; whereas, about 5% have PAD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Although it isn’t as common as CHD, PAD is very serious. People with the disease have up to a five times greater risk of heart attacks or strokes, according to the National Institutes of Health. Conversely, if you already have CHD, you have a one in three chance of developing PAD. Untreated, PAD can result in non-healing wounds, gangrene, and amputation.

Other names for PAD include intermittent claudication, arterial insufficiency, and peripheral vascular disease (PVD). PAD, however, is the preferred term, and this disease should not be confused with conditions that affect leg veins, such as varicose veins or chronic venous insufficiency.

Similarities between CHD and PAD 

With PAD, the arteries develop plaque—a combination of cholesterol, fat, calcium, and other compounds—just like coronary arteries do and for essentially the same reasons. “People who smoke; or have diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart disease are most at risk for developing PAD,” says Eugenio Machado, M.D., medical director at

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