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How is peripheral artery disease (PAD) treated?

Treatments for peripheral arterial disease (PAD) include lifestyle changes, medicines and surgery or procedures.

The overall goals of treating PAD are to reduce symptoms, improve quality of life, and prevent complications. Treatment is based on your signs and symptoms, risk factors and results from a physical exam and tests.

Lifestyle Changes
Treatment often includes making long-lasting lifestyle changes, such as:

  • Quitting smoking. Your risk for PAD increases four times if you smoke. Smoking also raises your risk for other diseases, such as coronary artery disease (CAD). Talk to your doctor about programs and products that can help you quit smoking.
  • Lowering blood pressure. This lifestyle change can help you avoid the risk of stroke, heart attack, heart failure and kidney disease.
  • Lowering high blood cholesterol levels. Lowering cholesterol can delay or even reverse the buildup of plaque in the arteries.
  • Lowering blood glucose levels if you have diabetes. A hemoglobin A1C test can show how well you have controlled your blood sugar level over the past 3 months.
  • Getting regular physical activity. Talk with your doctor about taking part in a supervised exercise program. This type of program has been shown to reduce PAD symptoms.

Medicines
Your doctor may prescribe medicines to:

  • Lower high blood cholesterol levels and high blood pressure
  • Thin the blood to prevent clots from forming due to low blood flow
  • Help ease leg pain that occurs when you walk or climb stairs

Surgery or Procedures

  • Bypass Grafting - Your doctor may recommend bypass grafting surgery if blood flow in your limb is blocked or nearly blocked. For this surgery, your doctor uses a blood vessel from another part of your body or a man-made tube to make a graft. This graft bypasses (goes around) the blocked part of the artery, which allows blood to flow around the blockage. This surgery doesn't cure PAD, but it may increase blood flow to the affected limb.
  • Angioplasty - Your doctor may recommend angioplasty (AN-jee-oh-plas-tee) to restore blood flow through a narrowed or blocked artery.

This answer from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has been reviewed and/or edited by Dr. William D. Knopf.

Dr. John J. Marshall, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

PAD is treated in several different ways, depending on its severity.

The PAD disease process is similar to the narrowing that affects heart arteries – where fatty deposits called plaque build up and eventually obstruct blood flow and raise blood pressure. As a result, the treatments are similar. They aim to promote clear, flexible healthy vessels so blood flow is restored.

The first stage of treatment strategies doctors usually recommend for mild PAD are based on lifestyle changes, and may include medications, too. Among the strategies are:

  • Quit smoking; eliminating tobacco use may be the most important step you can take
  • Take part in an approved exercise program, such as structured walking
  • Eat a healthful, low-fat diet
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Take prescribed medications for high blood pressure, thinning the blood to prevent clots, and lowering cholesterol, as determined by your doctor

In more serious cases of PAD, where leg pain is so severe and persistent that walking is problematic, the lifestyle changes and medications may be combined with a minimally invasive procedure performed by a physician who specializes in blood vessel health, or through surgery to create a detour around the vessel blockages to restore blood flow.

People with peripheral arterial disease (PAD) are at very high risk for heart attacks and stroke, so it is very important to manage cardiovascular risk factors. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Quit smoking. Your health care provider can help you.
  • Aim for an A1C below 7 percent. The A1C test measures your average blood glucose (sugar) over the past 2 to 3 months.
  • Lower your blood pressure to less than 130/80 mmHg.
  • Get your LDL cholesterol below 100 mg/dl.

Talk to your healthcare provider about taking aspirin or other antiplatelet medicines. These medicines have been shown to reduce heart attacks and strokes in people with PAD.

Studies have found that exercise, such as walking, can be used both to treat PAD and to prevent it. Medications may help relieve symptoms.

In some cases, surgical procedures are used to treat PAD:

  • Angioplasty, also called balloon angioplasty: a procedure in which a small tube with a balloon attached is inserted and threaded into an artery; then the balloon is inflated, opening the narrowed artery. A wire tube, called a stent, may be left in place to help keep the artery open.
  • Artery bypass graft: a procedure in which a blood vessel is taken from another part of the body and is attached to bypass a blocked artery.

Continue Learning about Vascular Disease

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.