Arteries are found throughout our bodies. Acting as pipes, they carry nutrient- and oxygen-rich blood from the heart to organs, muscles, skin and other parts of the body.
Unfortunately, arteries can become stiff, narrowed and even blocked by a buildup of cholesterol and other substances — also known as plaque. This process is called atherosclerosis. It’s similar to when a pipe narrows or becomes blocked because of a buildup of debris. Blood flow slows, depriving muscles and other organs of oxygen and vital nutrients.
We typically think of atherosclerosis as affecting the heart’s arteries (called coronary artery disease), which can cause a heart attack or chest pain. But this process can occur anywhere in the body.
If you have peripheral artery disease (PAD), sometimes not enough blood flows to your arms and legs. Many people don’t have any symptoms at first, but as PAD progresses you may notice:
- Your legs feel very tired, heavy or start to cramp when you walk, and you might need to stop and rest
- Your walking speed becomes slower
- You have leg or foot pain, or both
- Ulcers or wounds that won’t heal
The main concern is that PAD also increases the chance of a fatal heart attack or stroke. Use this condition center to learn more about how PAD increases your risk — and how you can protect your heart.