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What is Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)?

With peripheral artery disease (PAD), the vessels that carry blood away from the heart narrow and restrict blood flow. It typically affects arteries in the arms and legs, although it can also occur in arteries leading to the kidneys and intestines. 

PAD may also be referred to as peripheral vascular disease (PVD). The condition is treatable when caught early. But if it isn’t treated, PAD in the legs can progress to critical limb-threatening ischemia, a potentially life-altering disease.

Peripheral artery disease treatment in the Puget Sound: Why choose us?

Peripheral artery disease often requires lifelong care, and the doctors at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health are here for you. You have access to advanced testing, medical therapies and surgical options. We pay careful attention to your needs, enabling you to feel your best for years to come. 

Getting started is easy. Highly skilled vascular specialists are in clinic locations throughout Puget Sound.  Contact one of our specialists to make an appointment.

What does peripheral artery disease feel like?

Peripheral artery disease might not cause symptoms at first. Over time, the lack of blood flow and oxygen causes issues that may be difficult to ignore. You may experience pain and cramping that worsen with physical activity (claudication). Many people notice symptoms in their legs. But PAD can also cause discomfort in your buttocks, calves, thighs, hips and arms.

What causes peripheral artery disease?

PAD is due to a waxy substance (plaque) in the peripheral artery’s inner lining. Without treatment, plaque deposits build up and harden, causing atherosclerosis. As plaque builds up, less blood flows through the artery. As a result, nearby tissue doesn’t receive the oxygen it needs to be healthy and function. Limited blood flow to the lower limbs can also lead to chronic limb-threatening ischemia.

PAD risk factors

Certain factors increase your risk for peripheral artery disease, including: 

  • Age: Peripheral artery disease is more common in people over 60.
  • Family history: You may be more likely to experience PAD if there is a family history of heart or vascular disease.
  • Lifestyle: Smoking, eating a high-fat diet and not being physically active increase the risk of atherosclerosis.
  • Other medical conditions: PAD often occurs in people with diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other ongoing (chronic) diseases.

Peripheral artery disease diagnosis

If you have PAD symptoms, we conduct a thorough assessment. Vascular disease experts check for signs of peripheral artery disease, like a weak pulse or poor blood flow. We may conduct blood tests to check cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Vascular testing in our accredited lab can pinpoint blockages and determine their severity.

You may also benefit from an evaluation if you aren’t experiencing symptoms but have peripheral artery disease risk factors. Detecting PAD before symptoms arise lets you receive treatment to slow its progression and protect against complications. Find out more about vascular disease screenings.

Treatments for peripheral artery disease

We often treat early-stage PAD with medical therapies. Severe cases may require more advanced therapies, such as surgery. Read more about the vascular disease treatments we offer.

  • Your personalized care plan may include: 

    • Medications: Certain drugs can lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Antiplatelets may prevent blood clots.   
    • Lifestyle changes: If you use tobacco, quitting for good can help your arteries heal. You should also eat a lower-fat diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables and lean proteins.  
    • Physical activity: Some of our locations offer a supervised exercise program. A physical therapist guides you through activities that promote blood flow and help you feel less tired.
  • We often use endovascular techniques to repair blood vessels using a thin tube (catheter), small instruments, such as balloons and stents, and real-time imaging. This method is gentler on your body and helps you heal quickly. In some cases, an open procedure with larger incisions is safer. We discuss the best option for you and answer any questions you have. 

    Endovascular procedures may include: 

    • Angioplasty and stenting: We inflate a small balloon in narrowed arteries to widen them. When appropriate, placing a hollow metallic mesh device (stent) in the area keeps it open.
    • Atherectomy: Surgeons use a blade or laser to scrape away plaque deposits.
    • Bypass: We reroute blood flow around severely blocked vessels. Find out more about peripheral vascular bypass.

Contact us

Learn more about testing a treatments in the Puget Sound.