Peripheral artery disease (PAD) occurs when plaque — a buildup of fatty deposits, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances — narrows an artery that supplies blood to the leg or arms. When plaque builds up in these arteries, it can limit blood flow and lead to pain while walking, known as intermittent claudication. It can also lead to other cardiovascular issues, including heart attack or stroke. PAD is most common in people older than 50 and those who smoke or have diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, and family history of PAD. In this article, we look at some of the common causes of PAD. If you have any symptoms related to the condition, you should see a Plano peripheral artery disease specialist for diagnosis and treatment.
Atherosclerosis is a type of arterial disease that occurs when the smooth inner lining of an artery thickens. This plaque thickening can lead to several cardiovascular issues, including PAD. Arteries become narrow and clogged with fatty deposits known as plaques of atheroma. The blood supply to a particular part of the body becomes limited, and people may experience pain when walking (intermittent claudication), especially in the thighs and calves. Over time, plaque can break open or rupture and forms a blood clot at the site. When this happens, it blocks blood flow to an area of the heart or brain, resulting in a heart attack or stroke.
High blood pressure can lead to atherosclerosis, a type of arterial disease in which the arteries thicken and narrow over time. Atherosclerosis prevents proper blood flow. When it occurs in the peripheral arteries (those that supply oxygen-rich blood to the arms and legs), it often leads to PAD symptoms such as pain while walking or exercising (intermittent claudication).
If you have high cholesterol, it could be due to one of two types of problems: A high amount of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, commonly termed “bad” cholesterol, or a low level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, often referred to as “good” cholesterol. High LDL levels can lead to atherosclerosis, the primary cause of PAD.
Age is also a common cause of PAD. As you grow older, your body’s ability to repair and grow new cells naturally decreases. Being older may also mean you’ve lived with high cholesterol for a long time. It can take years of high LDL levels for plaque to build up in the arteries, which causes atherosclerosis and PAD. People over 65 are at least twice as likely to develop PAD due primarily to atherosclerosis.
Smoking and a sedentary lifestyle can lead to PAD, especially in older adults or people who already have heart disease. When you smoke, it reduces the amount of oxygen that reaches your cells while also increasing blood pressure and the production of damaging free radicals. Smoking is also associated with an increased risk for diabetes.
In summary, PAD is a condition that occurs when plaque or fatty deposits narrow the blood vessels in your arms and legs. This can cause pain while walking, known as intermittent claudication, especially in the thighs and calves. Atherosclerosis is the main reason for PAD. Other common PAD causes are high cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, being older, and having a sedentary lifestyle.