What are the risk factors for peripheral artery disease (PAD)?

Tobacco use is probably the greatest risk factor for peripheral arterial disease (PAD). Other risk factors for PAD include the following: 

  • positive family history of premature heart attacks or strokes
  • age greater than 50 years
  • obesity
  • smoking
  • high blood pressure
  • high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the "bad cholesterol"), plus high triglycerides and low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (the "good cholesterol")

People who have coronary heart disease or a history of heart attack or stroke generally also have an increased frequency of having peripheral arterial disease.

The same risk factors that may contribute to a heart attack or stroke are the same for peripheral arterial disease (PAD), which is generally associated with blocked arteries of the leg. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • smoking (tobacco)
  • diabetes
  • hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • hyperlipidemia (high blood cholesterol)
  • family history of atherosclerosis

Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is a known risk factor following coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) surgery. A study has shown that the risk of death following CABG surgery is higher among black people with PAD.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

The Ankle-Brachial Index test is used in preventive cardiology to detect peripheral arterial disease (hardening of the arteries). Risk factors include smoking, a family history of diabetes or heart disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

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Dr. Justin P. Levisay, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Physical activity will not necessarily prevent you from developing peripheral arterial disease (PAD). Exercise is excellent for helping reduce blood pressure, obesity and high blood sugar. If you do in fact have PAD in the legs, regular physical activity can improve symptoms tremendously and possibly avoid the need for surgery.

Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) affects 8 to 12 million people in the United States. African Americans are more than twice as likely as Caucasians to have P.A.D.

The major risk factors for PAD are smoking, age and having certain diseases or conditions.

Smoking is more closely related to getting PAD than any other risk factor. Your risk for PAD increases four times if you smoke or have a history of smoking. On average, smokers who develop PAD have symptoms 10 years earlier than nonsmokers who develop PAD.

Quitting smoking slows the progress of PAD. Smoking even one or two cigarettes a day can interfere with PAD treatments. Smokers and people who have diabetes are at highest risk for PAD complications, including gangrene (tissue death) in the leg from decreased blood flow.

As you get older, your risk for PAD increases. Genetic or lifestyle factors cause plaque to build in your arteries as you age.

About 5 percent of U.S. adults who are older than 50 have PAD. Among adults aged 65 and older, 12 to 20 percent may have PAD. Older age combined with other risk factors, such as smoking or diabetes, also puts you at higher risk.

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

About 10 million people in the United States have peripheral artery disease (PAD) in which the health of their legs and feet are threatened by narrowed arteries that limit blood flow. People with PAD are also at increased risk for heart attack and stroke.

PAD increases with age. In fact, anyone over age 70 is at risk for PAD. Younger people, beginning around age 50, are at greater risk than normal if they have a history of diabetes or have ever smoked.

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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.