Peripheral Artery Disease and Your Heart

Understand the Connection

Be an Advocate


Many people — even clinicians — aren’t aware of how closely linked PAD is with heart and cerebrovascular problems. Adding to the problem is that many people don’t even know they have PAD. 

More: Many PAD Cases are Undetected

What You Can Do

If you think you have PAD and haven’t yet been diagnosed, ask to be evaluated:

  • Don’t be shy, especially if you have a hard time keeping up with your peers, notice leg discomfort when walking or feel as though you’re slowing down. Many times, people dismiss signs of PAD as a normal part of the aging process. 
  • Talk with your health professional about a simple test called the ankle brachial index (ABI). For this test, your doctor will compare the blood pressure readings in your ankles and arms to help assess blood flow to your legs using an ultrasound machine. 

If you’ve been diagnosed with PAD:

  • Develop a plan with your health care providers. Talk about how to assess and protect your arteries, including those supplying your heart, brain and other vital organs. Often, lifestyle changes and medications can help slow the progression or treat risk factors that can make blockages worse. 
  • If you smoke, you’ll want to ask for help to quit. 
  • Make sure you receive appropriate testing. Studies show that only a small portion of patients are referred to a vascular specialist. This expert may order tests to find out whether circulation (blood flow) can be restored to the muscle and tissue as well as find ways to help you move better. Revascularization is a procedure that can work in some patients to open clogged arteries in the legs.
  • Remember, it’s OK to ask for a second opinion.

Early Detection and Treatment Are Key

By finding PAD early on, you can help prevent or delay further damage to the blood vessels. You’ll also be able to take advantage of less invasive treatment options, including medical therapy, a supervised exercise program or both. 

More: Many PAD Cases are Undetected

Treatments will depend on whether you have symptoms, and there may be other considerations, too. Overall, therapy is aimed at managing symptoms and preventing further atherosclerotic buildup and may include:

  • Supervised exercise 
  • Medications (note that aspirin or statins may be recommended even if your cholesterol is normal because they help reduce inflammation in the blood vessels)
  • Procedures or surgeries to open blocked or narrowed arteries 
  • In rare cases, amputation
  • Clot-preventing therapies
  • Other lifestyle changes 

To learn more about peripheral artery disease and its symptoms, visit www.CardioSmart.org/PAD.

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Published: November 2018
Medical Reviewers: Khusrow A.K. Niazi, MBBS, FACC; Osama A. Ibrahim, MD, FACC; Michelle Sloan, NP

Infographic: Peripheral Artery Disease

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Infographic: Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)