Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is caused by atherosclerosis, where fatty deposits (called plaque) build up inside the arteries and cause a partial or full blockage. Atherosclerosis is also the cause of coronary artery blockages that can lead to a heart attack and those that form in the carotid artery blockages in the neck, which can lead to a stroke.
How did this happen?
PAD doesn’t happen overnight. Atherosclerosis is a disease process that occurs to some degree or another in everyone, and the longer you live, the more time plaque has to build up in your arteries. But getting older isn’t the only risk factor that causes or contributes to an increased risk for PAD. While some risk factors are beyond your control, others you can control to help slow the development of PAD.
Controllable risk factors
- Smoking – If you smoke, now’s the time to quit. As many as half the people who have PAD and don’t quit smoking will have a heart attack or stroke or may die within five years. Several studies have found that smoking half a pack of cigarettes a day may increase the risk of PAD by 30% to 50%.1 And it can affect your treatment and recovery, too. Your doctor is a good resource to help you quit.
- Diabetes – If you have diabetes, you’re at greater risk for PAD and heart disease. And diabetes can affect the nerves, interfering with your ability to feel pain in your legs and feet. Work with your doctor to carefully manage your diabetes.
- High blood pressure and high cholesterol – Get them checked regularly and work with your doctor to make sure they’re not putting you at risk.
Uncontrollable risk factors
- Coronary artery disease (CAD) – If you’ve already had a blockage or narrowing of the coronary or other arteries, you’re at an increased risk of having similar problems with the arteries leading to your legs.
- Age – If you’re over 70 or over 50 with other risk factors, you should talk to your doctor about PAD, since atherosclerosis develops over the course of your lifetime.
- Family history of cardiovascular disease – Ask your doctor if your family history puts you at a greater risk for PAD.
- Higher levels of homocysteine (an amino acid) and C-reactive protein in the blood – Having higher levels of this amino acid and protein have been associated with greater risk for PAD. It’s important to note, however, that it’s unclear if having these higher levels actually contributes to the disease.