Can peripheral artery disease (PAD) develop in your arms?

Rikesh Patel, MD
Interventional Cardiology
Yes. Peripheral arterial disease is the result of atherosclerosis, or plaque buildup in the arteries, which is a body-wide (systemic) process. A blockage may occur in any blood vessel. If you have peripheral artery disease in your arm, you have decreased blood flow to the arm due to a blocked artery. This can result in arm fatigue, pain and weakness, particularly with use. Repetitive activity, motion or use of the affected arm (for example, when combing your hair), can worsen symptoms. The symptoms usually get better with rest.
A significant blockage in the artery supplying one arm will often cause the affected arm to have a lower blood pressure (>20 mmHg with severe narrowing) than the unaffected side. While this is usually not immediately life threatening, these blockages can be treated by stenting. People with such blockages who have this procedure usually have a marked improvement in quality of life. See a doctor if you have arm pain or fatigue or differences in arm blood pressure readings. Peripheral arterial disease, even involving the arms, is associated with an increased risk of heart disease and requires aggressive care and attention.
Yes, peripheral artery disease can develop in your arms, but it is rare. PAD is most commonly associated with the legs and feet, although it does include conditions caused by the blockage of blood flow in the blood vessels of both the arms and hands.
Doctors call this form of PAD “upper extremity PAD.” It is much less common than PAD of the legs and feet, estimated to affect about 10 percent of the population. When it does occur, the cause is the same as in the legs and feet:  fatty deposits, called plaques, build up on the inside of the blood vessels, reducing blood flow to the hands and arms.
Whenever blood flow is blocked, whether to your heart, brain, legs, or arms, it deprives the body part of oxygen. If PAD is affecting the arms and hands, you might experience discomfort when working, especially when raising your arms repetitively, such as when hanging laundry on a clothesline or hammering nails above your head.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.