Risk Factors for PAD
Just like in coronary artery disease, some PAD
risk factors can’t be controlled — aging, personal or
family history of PAD, cardiovascular disease or stroke.
However, you can control these risk factors:
• Cigarette smoking — You can stop smoking.
Smoking is a major risk factor for PAD. Smokers
may have four times the risk of PAD than
nonsmokers. Avoid secondhand smoke.
• Diabetes mellitus — You can manage diabetes
and blood sugar levels. Having diabetes puts
you at greater risk of developing PAD and other
• High blood pressure — You can manage your
• High blood cholesterol — You can manage
your cholesterol levels. High cholesterol can
significantly reduce blood flow. Managing your
cholesterol levels is essential to prevent or treat PAD.
Controlling obesity and getting regular physical
activity may also help to reduce the risk of PAD and other
cardiovascular diseases and stroke.
How is PAD diagnosed?
PAD may go undiagnosed by healthcare professionals
How is PAD treated?
because so many people either aren’t having symptoms,
or attribute PAD symptoms to something else. Despite a
cryptogenic stroke in 2002 at 42 and 10 years of TIAs,
“my neurologist told me my feet hurt because I had
plantar fasciitis or that I had some type of neuropathy in
my feet,” Elizabeth said. “The TIAs completely ceased
PAD diagnosis begins with a physical examination.
Your healthcare provider will ask about symptoms you
may be experiencing. They will check for weak pulses
in the legs. Depending on what your healthcare provider
finds during the examination, an ankle-brachial index (ABI)
may be administered. The results of the ABI may warrant
Treatment for PAD focuses on reducing symptoms
and preventing it from progressing further. In most cases,
lifestyle changes, physical activity and claudication
medications are enough to slow the progression or even
reverse the symptoms of PAD.
Regular physical activity is often an effective treatment
for PAD symptoms. Often doctors recommend a program
of supervised exercise training, also known as cardiac
rehabilitation. As did Elizabeth, you may have to begin
slowly, but simple walking regimens, leg exercises and
treadmill exercise programs can ease symptoms.
When PAD causes pain while walking, the exercise
program takes that into account — alternating activity
and rest in intervals to build up the amount of time you
can walk before the pain sets in. Other exercises such
as upper body ergometry (using a machine built for you
to pedal with your arms), cycling and pain-free or low-
intensity walking can also improve walking and function.
It’s best if this exercise program is undertaken in
a rehabilitation center and monitored. But if that isn’t
possible, your healthcare professional may recommend a
structured community or home-based program.
Tobacco smoke is a major risk factor for PAD and
for heart attack and stroke. Stop smoking and avoid
secondhand smoke. It will help to slow the progression of
PAD and other heart-related diseases.
Many PAD patients have elevated cholesterol levels.
A diet low in saturated and trans fat can help lower
blood cholesterol levels, but cholesterol-lowering
medication may be necessary to maintain the proper
Working with a coordinated healthcare team and making
the lifestyle changes necessary to best manage diabetes
may help reduce limb-related complications.
You may be prescribed high blood pressure
medications and/or cholesterol-lowering medications.
Make sure you take the medication as recommended.
Not following directions increases your risk for PAD, as
well as heart attack and stroke.
In addition, you may be prescribed medications to
help prevent blood clots.
Those with PAD should have an annual flu vaccination.
For a minority of patients, the above
recommendations and treatments aren’t enough, and
minimally invasive treatment or surgery may be needed.
Visit heart.org for more information on surgeries and
procedural interventions for treating PAD.
Visit heart.org for more about peripheral artery
The American Heart Association/American Stroke
Association Support Network is here for patients and their
families to come together and share their experiences,
insights and tips and support for one another. Join the
Support Network for free today.