Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) occurs when a fatty material called plaque builds up on the inside walls of the arteries that carry blood from the heart to the head, internal organs, and limbs. PAD is also known as atherosclerotic peripheral arterial disease or “hardening of the arteries”.
The build up of plaque on the artery walls is called atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. Atherosclerosis causes the arteries to narrow or become blocked, which can reduce or block blood flow. PAD most commonly affects blood flow to the legs.
Blocked blood flow can cause pain and numbness. It also can increase a person’s chance of getting an infection, and it can make it difficult for the person’s body to fight the infection. If severe enough, blocked blood flow can cause tissue death (gangrene). PAD is the leading cause of leg amputation.
Atherosclerosis can affect arteries anywhere in the body, including the arteries that carry blood to the heart and brain. When atherosclerosis affects the arteries of the heart, it is called coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD can cause a heart attack. If atherosclerosis is in the limbs, it also is likely to be in the coronary arteries.
When atherosclerosis affects the major arteries supplying the brain, it is called carotid artery disease which we will cover in a future post.