Peripheral artery disease or PAD can be treated.

Peripheral artery disease treatment can help many patients find relief from symptoms and prevent further damage to their arteries. Whether you need lifestyle changes or surgery to treat your condition, it’s important to understand all of your options and how different types of treatments can benefit you.

Find out more about peripheral artery disease, the different types of treatments, and what questions to ask your doctor.

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What Is Peripheral Artery Disease?

The arteries in your legs bring oxygen-rich blood to your muscles and skin, helping you walk and heal wounds.

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) happens when the arteries in your legs become narrow, usually because of atherosclerosis (or the buildup of plaque in your artery walls), which can restrict blood flow. Plaque may also rupture, leading to a blood clot that further limits or even totally blocks the flow of blood.

PAD can affect your quality of life and lead to serious complications if left untreated. Mild to moderate PAD can cause pain with walking, which may make everyday tasks like climbing stairs or doing household chores difficult. In more severe cases, a lack of blood flow can cause tissue to die. Once tissue dies, it must be removed, sometimes through total amputation.

It’s also important to remember that if you have plaque in the arteries of your legs, you can have it in other arteries as well. If the arteries that bring blood to your heart or brain are also blocked, this can lead to life-threatening problems like heart attack and stroke.

Symptoms of Peripheral Artery Disease

The most common symptom of mild PAD is pain or cramping in your leg muscles that happens when you walk or climb stairs but that goes away when you rest (known as intermittent claudication).

While mild PAD is not limb-threatening, it’s important to talk to your doctor if you have symptoms so you can begin treatment as soon as possible and prevent further damage to your arteries.

More severe forms of PAD can be limb-threatening. Patients with severe PAD can develop critical limb ischemia, which happens when your tissues cannot get enough blood because of a major blockage. This can lead to symptoms including:

  • Leg or foot pain at rest
  • Skin discoloration or coolness
  • Foot ulcers, or wounds that do not heal
  • Gangrene, or tissue death

Peripheral Artery Disease Treatment Options

Your doctor will develop a peripheral artery disease treatment plan based on your symptoms, the severity of your condition, and your overall health. The goal of treatment will be to manage your symptoms and to treat the underlying cause of your PAD.

Lifestyle changes play a big part in PAD treatment and can help you lower your risk for other heart and vascular problems. Some lifestyle changes include:

If your PAD is moderate to severe, you may need additional treatments to restore proper blood flow, including:

  • Minimally invasive procedures, like angioplasty and stenting, to open blocked arteries
  • Bypass surgery, which creates a new route for blood to flow around the blockage

What Should I Ask My Doctor?

If you’ve been diagnosed with PAD, it’s important for you to understand your condition and your options for treatment. Some questions to ask your doctor, even if they might seem simple, include:

  • What is my diagnosis?
  • How severe is my PAD?
  • What are all of my options for treatment?
  • How will I know if the treatment is working?
  • Do I need medication? If so, are there side effects?
  • Do I need a procedure or surgery? If so, how long will I need to stay in the hospital?
  • What lifestyle changes do you recommend?

To learn more about peripheral artery disease treatment options, contact the UPMC Division of Vascular Surgery or call 412-802-3333.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About Heart and Vascular Institute

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine. We strive to provide the most advanced, cutting-edge care for our patients, treating both common and complex conditions. We also offer services that seek to improve the health of our communities, including heart screenings, free clinics, and heart health education. Find an expert near you.