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Is peripheral artery disease (PAD) dangerous?

Dr. Joshua I. Greenberg, MD
Vascular Surgeon

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) can be very dangerous. Around 150,000 amputations for PAD are performed in the U.S. per year. An increasing minority of people present with severe PAD, so-called critical limb ischemia, which places people at a very high risk of either amputation or death or both. What starts as a little toe wound can spiral into something much greater, literally overnight. Failure to promptly improve the circulation can therefore lead to devastating problems.

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Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is dangerous for several different reasons. The disease is the result of atherosclerosis, or plaque buildup in your arteries. Atherosclerosis is a body-wide process that can affect the arteries of the heart, brain, arms, legs, and vital organs such as the kidneys and intestines. Even if you do not have symptoms, a blockage in the peripheral arteries to the arms and legs raises your risk for stroke and heart attack. If you have peripheral artery disease, your risk factors for atherosclerosis should be managed aggressively to help prevent these possible events.

PAD is also dangerous because large amounts of plaque buildup in the arteries can interfere with blood flow to your organs or limbs and can affect how these bodies areas work. This can be an immediate danger. Sometimes, non-healing wounds or ulcers develop (most commonly on the legs and feet). A condition called critical limb ischemia (often involving limited blood flow to the legs) is associated with a significant increase in the risk of amputation and death.

Appropriate screening by a doctor and risk factor modification can help prevent the development and progression of peripheral artery disease. Comprehensive cardiovascular care—not just for your heart, but for your entire cardiovascular system—is the key to improving outcomes.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Peripheral arterial disease can be sign you are at risk for a stroke. Find out how to avoid this condition as Dr. Oz explains in this video.

If left untreated, peripheral arterial disease (PAD) can be fatal. It is usually associated with comorbid conditions such as coronary artery disease, chronic kidney disease and cerebrovascular disease, which increase a patient’s risk for death.

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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.