What is peripheral arterial disease (PAD)?

PAD occurs when fatty deposits (plaques) build up in the arterial walls, reducing or blocking blood flow to the limbs. This process is known as atherosclerosis. The severity of PVD varies widely, from mild discomfort to severe pain and disability.

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Types of PAD

There are two types of PVD: functional and organic. 

  • Functional PAD: This type doesn't involve defects in blood vessels themselves. Instead, it's characterized by temporary narrowing of blood vessels. Stress, cold temperatures, or operating specific machinery can trigger functional PAD.
  • Organic PAD: This type involves changes in blood vessel structure — usually due to atherosclerosis. Organic PAD can cause gradual changes in the blood vessels, leading to chronic symptoms or complications.

What causes PAD?

The primary cause of PAD is atherosclerosis. However, other conditions can also lead to PAD, including blood clots or inflammation in the arteries, infection, structural defects, and injury.

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What are the risk factors for PAD?

Risk factors for PAD include smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, age (over 50), obesity, sedentary lifestyle, family history of heart disease, stroke, or PAD, and personal history of heart disease or stroke.

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What are the symptoms of PAD?

Many people with PAD have mild or no symptoms. However, some may experience painful cramping in one or both hips, thighs, or calf muscles after certain physical activities, such as walking or climbing stairs. This symptom is known as claudication. Other symptoms may include leg numbness or weakness, coldness in your lower leg or foot, sores on your toes, feet, or legs that won't heal, and color changes in your legs.

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What are the complications of PAD?

If left untreated, PAD can lead to serious complications, including critical limb ischemia (a condition marked by open sores that don't heal, an injury, or infection of your feet or legs). Early diagnosis and treatment of PAD can prevent these complications and improve quality of life.


Claudication is a common symptom of PAD. It refers to muscle pain or cramping that occurs with certain activities and improves with rest. The pain results from inadequate blood flow to the muscles, typically in the legs. Claudication can make it difficult to walk or participate in physical activities.

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How is PAD diagnosed?

Diagnosis of PAD often begins with a physical examination, during which your healthcare professional may find signs like a weak or absent pulse below a narrowed area of your artery, whooshing sounds (bruits) over your arteries that can be heard with a stethoscope, evidence of poor wound healing in the area where your blood flow is restricted, and decreased blood pressure in your affected limb. Diagnostic tests may include:

Ankle-Brachial Index (ABI)

This is one of the most common tests done to diagnose PAD. It compares the blood pressure in your ankle with the blood pressure in your arm.


Special ultrasound imaging techniques, such as Doppler ultrasound, can help your doctor evaluate blood flow through your blood vessels and identify blocked or narrowed arteries.

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How is PAD treated?

Treatment for PAD focuses on reducing symptoms and preventing the progression of the disease to lower the risk of complications. Lifestyle changes, medications, and sometimes surgery or minimally invasive procedures are part of the treatment plan.

Lifestyle Changes

Smoking cessation, regular exercise, and eating a heart-healthy diet are essential parts of your treatment plan.


Drugs can control symptoms, help manage accompanying health conditions like high cholesterol or high blood pressure, prevent blood clots, and control pain and other symptoms.

Procedures or Surgery

In some cases, angioplasty or surgery may be necessary to open up or bypass blocked arteries.

Why choose Surgical Associates?

Surgical Associates is a unique, specialized surgical practice with a wide range of specialties, including Thyroid, Vascular, Gastric, Colorectal, Trauma, and Pancreatic/Liver. For over 40 years, our practice has been serving the community, earning us the reputation as the premier surgical practice in the region. We are proudly owned by ten specialty surgeons who have chosen to make Central Wisconsin their home.

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