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PAD Symptoms and Risks

Symptoms of PAD

If you have peripheral artery disease (PAD), you might not have any symptoms, especially in the early stages. The disease gets worse slowly, so many people don’t have symptoms for a long time. You may notice:

  • Pain, cramping or fatigue in the legs, especially when you’re walking or exercising. This type of pain is called claudication. The pain is usually in the calf but could be in your thigh, hip or buttock. You may find that you feel better when you rest, but the discomfort returns when you’re active again.
  • Leg cramps after walking or climbing stairs.
  • Numbness or weakness, especially in the legs.
  • One leg that feels cooler than the other. If you have a light skin tone, the skin on the cooler leg may also look pale or bluish.
  • Cold or numb toes.
  • Wounds or sores that don’t heal or heal slowly.
  • Shiny skin and hair loss on the feet and legs.
  • Slow-growing toenails.
  • A weak pulse (or the inability to find a pulse) in the legs or feet.
  • Erectile dysfunction (in men and people born into a male body). 

Risk factors for PAD

Certain things can put you at higher risk for PAD. Many of them can be controlled, so making lifestyle changes may make it less likely that you’ll develop PAD.

PAD risk factors include:

  • Smoking or using tobacco: The chemicals in tobacco can damage your blood vessels and lead to atherosclerosis.
  • Diabetes: High blood sugar levels can damage arteries and cause atherosclerosis.
  • High blood pressure (hypertension): High blood pressure puts stress on the walls of the arteries and can promote plaque buildup.
  • High cholesterol: Cholesterol can lead to plaque formation.
  • Age: PAD is more common in older adults and the risk increases with age. In fact, it’s found in up to one in five people over age 60. That’s because older people are more likely to have PAD risk factors and to be exposed to them for a long time. Plus, arteries naturally lose some of their ability to bend and stretch as they age, making atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) more likely.
  • Family history: You’re more likely to develop PAD if you have a family member with PAD or another vascular disease.
  • Being overweight or obese: Excess weight — having a body mass index (BMI) over 30 — can cause atherosclerosis.
  • Lack of regular physical activity: People who get little or no exercise are at increased risk for PAD.
  • Unhealthy diet: Diets high in saturated and trans fats, cholesterol and sodium are linked to plaque buildup in the arteries.
  • Gender: Younger men have a higher risk of PAD compared to younger women. But the risk evens out as people get older.
  • Ethnicity: African Americans and Blacks, Hispanic Americans, certain Native Americans, South Asians and Southeast Asians are at higher risk for PAD than people in other ethnic groups.
  • Other heart diseases: People who have had coronary artery disease or carotid artery disease have a higher risk of PAD.
  • Chronic kidney disease: Poor kidney function is linked with an increased risk of PAD.

Learn about PAD diagnosis