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Peripheral Arterial Disease

Peripheral Arterial Disease Visual representation of the venous and arterial system in the extremities.

The University of Chicago Medicine is uniquely positioned in the community to provide advanced treatment for patients who have a higher risk of developing peripheral arterial disease. Peripheral arterial disease (PAD), also known as peripheral vascular disease, is most often caused by atherosclerosis - plaque formation in arteries that supply blood to the extremities, such as legs and arms. When these fatty deposits collect in arteries and harden, it narrows the opening and blocks effective blood flow.

PAD can result in a range of symptoms, from leg cramps during exercise (claudication) and numbness to severe foot pain at rest (rest pain) and wounds in the feet that are slow to heal. Untreated, this condition can progress to gangrene and potential limb loss.

Causes and Risk Factors

While some risk factors for developing PAD correlate with existing health concerns, such as family history of atherosclerosis, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, other risk factors can be lessened through behavioral modifications such as increasing activity and stopping smoking.

Diagnosing Peripheral Arterial Disease

Peripheral arterial disease often is asymptomatic. When pain does occur, it may be mistaken for other conditions. Early diagnosis will reduce the risk of limb loss and the need for more invasive procedures. The University of Chicago Medicine offers early detection through our Dare to C.A.R.E. program.

PAD Treatment Options

In some cases, our surgeons will help a patient manage their risk of peripheral arterial disease through medical treatments and advise an exercise program. For more serious cases, patients may require transluminal balloon angioplasty – the insertion of a catheter (small, thin tube) through an artery in the upper thigh to open an arterial narrowing or blockage.

The most severe cases of PAD might require bypass grafting. In this procedure, a surgeon attaches an alternative blood vessel (either a prosthetic tube or the patient's own vein) to the blocked artery, creating a new, unobstructed passage through which blood can flow.