Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is a common condition in which a build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries restricts blood supply to leg muscles. It is also known as peripheral vascular disease (PVD).
The fatty deposits, called atheroma, are made up of cholesterol and other waste substances. The build-up of atheroma on the walls of the arteries makes the arteries narrower and restricts the flow of blood to the legs. This process is called atherosclerosis. People with PAD can experience painful aching in their leg muscles during physical activity because the muscles are not receiving the blood supply they need. Like all tissue in your body, muscles in your legs need a constant supply of blood to function properly. When you are using your leg muscles, the demand for blood increases four-fold. However, if the arteries in your legs are blocked, the supply of available blood cannot meet the demand.
The arteries supplying the lower extremities are usually affected, but sometimes the arteries of the upper extremities mey be affected as well. Left untreated, the lesions progress and the tissues supplied by these arteries undergo important, sometimes irreversible impairment.
PAD affects the inferior limbs arteries, but may also affect the neck arteries (carotid arteries), the renal arteries, and those vascularizing the digestive tube (caeliac artery, the superior and inferior mesenteric arteries).
Persons having PAD have not only an increased risk of myocardial infarction and stroke, but may even need aggressive treatment such as limb amputation.