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

Johns Hopkins Medicine

The most common cause of PAD is atherosclerosis, or buildup of plaque in the arterial walls. Plaque - composed of cholesterol-rich fatty deposits, collagen and other proteins, as well as excess smooth muscle cells - gradually accumulates, causing the arterial walls to become thicker. This thickening narrows the vascular channels and impedes blood flow.

Age, smoking, and diabetes are the most important risk factors for developing PAD. Obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure also contribute to atherosclerosis.

PAD typically occurs after the age of 50, although it can affect some male smokers as early as age 20. Diabetes and smoking greatly increase the risk of PAD. PAD shares the same risk factors as coronary artery disease, and these conditions often occur together. The disease may worsen if left untreated, in some cases even leading to tissue death (gangrene).

Peripheral vascular disease is most common after the age of 50, although one form can affect some male smokers as early as age 20. Diabetes greatly increases the risk of peripheral vascular disease, especially in women.

The disease may worsen if left untreated, in some cases even leading to tissue death (gangrene). Peripheral vascular disease shares the same risk factors as the more dangerous coronary artery disease, and the diseases often occur together.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)

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.



This content originally appeared on doctoroz.com
Justin P. Levisay, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
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.

Piedmont Heart Institute

Peripheral arterial disease (P.A.D.) 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 P.A.D. are smoking, age, and having certain diseases or conditions.


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

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


As you get older, your risk for P.A.D. 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 P.A.D. Among adults aged 65 and older, 12 to 20 percent may have P.A.D. 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.

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.
Denise M. Dietz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
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.

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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.