Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) |Symptoms and Risks |MedStar Health

Expert care for a painful condition of the arms and legs

One in 20 Americans older than 50 has peripheral artery disease (PAD), a condition that causes reduced blood flow to your limbs, particularly the legs. The experts in our Vascular and Endovascular Program are recognized leaders in the treatment of the condition, also known as peripheral vascular disease (PVD). They will work with you to develop an individualized plan to manage and treat the condition so you can return to your daily activities.

The most common form of PAD is atherosclerosis, a condition in which the arteries become narrow because of a buildup of plaque. It is a sign that you may have more widespread accumulation of plaque in your body, increasing your risk of heart attack and stroke.

Critical limb ischemia is a serious form of PAD in which the pain remains even while resting. It can also result in sores and wounds that won’t heal due to the poor circulation in your limbs. Left untreated, critical limb ischemia can even lead to amputation.


What are the symptoms?

Many people with PAD have no symptoms. The most common symptom is pain or cramping while walking, a condition known as claudication. Pain is not a normal part of aging. If you experience recurring leg pain, see your doctor.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Coldness in one leg or arm
  • Discoloration of the limb
  • Numbness or weakness
  • Sores that won’t heal
  • Slower growth of fingernails or toenails

What are the risk factors?

We don’t always know why plaque builds up in the limbs, but you may be at increased risk if you:


Diagnosing PAD is the first step to developing a treatment plan. Our specialists may recommend one or more diagnostic and imaging procedures.

Angiogram (Angiography)

An angiogram is a special X-ray that uses a special dye that is injected through a thin, flexible tube called a catheter to detect blockages or aneurysms in blood vessels.

Arterial duplex ultrasound for arms and legs

Arterial duplex ultrasound uses Doppler and traditional ultrasound to assess blood flow in the arteries of your arms and legs.

Pulse volume recording

Pulse volume recording tests are used to evaluate blood flow through the arteries in your arms or legs.


Your doctor will work with you to manage symptoms and stop the progression of the disease. This may include lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking and exercising, taking medication, or getting more advanced procedures such as angioplasty or surgery.

Peripheral artery disease treatments

Peripheral artery disease treatments may include lifestyle changes, medication, and minimally invasive, and surgical procedures to manage symptoms and reduce the risk of complications.


Atherectomy is a minimally invasive procedure used to remove plaque from blocked arteries.

Limb salvage

Limb salvage is a form of treatment our vascular surgeons use as an alternative to amputation for patients with severe PAD.

Percutaneous Transmural Arterial Bypass

During this procedure, a vascular surgeon and interventional cardiologist detour around a long, calcified blockage of the superficial femoral artery (SFA) by percutaneously creating a channel through the adjacent femoral vein. A stent is inserted from the top of the SFA, into the femoral vein, and back into the popliteal artery which allows increased blood flow to the leg.

Walking Program for Peripheral Artery Disease (SET-PAD)

Supervised Exercise Therapy (SET) for Symptomatic Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) is the use of intermittent walking exercise, which alternates periods of walking to moderate-to-maximum pain, with rest.

Our providers

Dr Brian Case listens to the heart of a patient during an office visit at MedStar Health. Both people are wearing masks.

Expert cardiology care

Getting the care you need starts with seeing one of our cardiologists.

Additional information

Vascular and Endovascular Program

Partner with a recognized leader in offering care ranging from straightforward vascular disease to the most complex vascular disorders.

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