Peripheral Artery Disease and Your Heart

Many PAD Cases are Undetected


While millions of Americans are living with peripheral artery disease (PAD), many don't know it, which means they:

  • Aren’t getting timely care
  • Remain vulnerable to heart attacks, stroke or even early death — one study showed that nearly 2 out of 3 people with PAD also had evidence of narrowing or blockages in their heart’s arteries 

There are many reasons why patients may not know they have PAD:

  • Many patients with PAD don’t notice symptoms right away and even if they do they can be subtle.
  • The minority of patients — only 1 in 10 — have the classic calf cramping with exercise that is thought of as the hallmark sign of PAD. 
  • Many people falsely think “slowing down” and not being able to walk as far as they used to do is simply part of getting older.
  • Women tend to have less obvious symptoms than men.
  • Some patients may not be active enough to get symptoms.
  • Many symptoms can mimic other conditions (for example, back, knee or hip pain, arthritis)
  • Having diabetes can mask symptoms, too, because the nerves in the extremities may be damaged and fail to send signals to the brain; therefore, legs will not ache or cramp, but may just feel tired or like they are going to give out. 

Who’s at risk for PAD?

The American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association have established guidelines to help better identify people who might have PAD or be at risk of developing it. You are more likely to have PAD if you are 50 or older and have risk factors for atherosclerosis, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • History of smoking
  • Diabetes

Other factors that make it more likely you have PAD include:

  • Family history of PAD
  • Other blockages in your arteries, such as coronary artery disease, carotid artery disease, previous heart attack or stroke

African Americans are especially likely to develop PAD. This may be, in part, due to the fact that this group also tends to have higher rates of diabetes and high blood pressure that can raise the risk of PAD.  Also, women with PAD may have less common symptoms and may be diagnosed later.

If you suspect or know that you or someone else has PAD, be your own best advocate. Speak up and act. Doing so can help protect your heart, too. 


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)