claudication”), when caused by PAD, is the muscles’ way of
warning the body that it isn’t receiving enough blood during
exercise to meet the increased demand.
Other symptoms of PAD include:
• Leg pain that does not go away when you stop exercising
• Foot or toe wounds that won’t heal or heal very slowly
• Gangrene, or dead tissue
• A marked decrease in the temperature of your lower
leg or foot particularly compared to the other leg or to
the rest of your body
• Poor nail growth on the toes or hair growth on the legs
• Erectile dysfunction, especially in men with diabetes
Understanding leg pain
Many people dismiss leg pain as a normal sign
of aging. You may think it’s arthritis, sciatica or just
“stiffness” from getting older. For an accurate diagnosis,
consider the source of your pain. PAD leg pain occurs in
the muscles, not the joints.
Those with diabetes might confuse PAD pain with a
neuropathy, a common diabetic symptom that is a burning or
painful discomfort of the feet or thighs. If you’re having any
kind of recurring pain, talk to your healthcare professional
and describe the pain as accurately as you can.
The most common symptoms of PAD involving the
lower extremities are cramping, pain or tiredness in the
leg or hip muscles while walking or climbing stairs.
Typically, this pain goes away with rest and returns when
you walk again.
Risk Factors for PAD
Certain risk factors for PAD can’t be controlled.
These uncontrollable risk factors include aging, personal
or family history of PAD, cardiovascular disease or
stroke. However, you can control the following important
• 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. Our
guide to quitting smoking can help you. You’ll also
want to avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.
• Diabetes mellitus — You can manage diabetes and
blood sugar levels. Having diabetes puts you at greater
risk of developing PAD as well as other cardiovascular
diseases. Learn more about the risks and how to
• High blood pressure — You can manage your
blood pressure. It’s sometimes called “the silent
killer” because it has no symptoms. Work with your
healthcare professionals to monitor and control your
• High blood cholesterol — You can manage your
cholesterol levels. High cholesterol contributes
to the build-up of plaque in the arteries, which can
significantly reduce the blood’s flow. This condition is
known as atherosclerosis. 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.
You can choose more than one target to improve! Taking
care of only one risk factor is not as effective as taking care
of all those that you can control. Develop a heart-healthy
lifestyle and cooperate with your healthcare professionals.
How is PAD diagnosed?
PAD may go undiagnosed by healthcare professionals
because so many people either aren’t having symptoms,
or attribute PAD symptoms to something else. If you
have any of the risk factors for PAD, you should ask your
healthcare professional about PAD even if you aren’t
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 further tests.
The most common symptoms of PAD involving
the lower extremities are cramping, pain or
tiredness in the leg or hip muscles while
walking or climbing stairs.