What Does Peripheral Artery Disease Feel Like?

The aches, pains and disorders of peripheral arterial disease may seem like nothing more than the effects of aging, but could be symptoms of a disease that may lead to stroke, heart attack, amputation or even death.


Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) occurs when fatty deposits—known as plaque—clog arteries in the leg, feet or arms, restricting normal blood flow. Just as with a blocked coronary artery, this drastically increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.


According to the American Heart Association, a typical early-stage symptom is “cramping or fatigue in the legs and buttocks during activity.” Other symptoms include numbness in the leg, cold feet, loss of hair on feet, changes in toenails or the color of legs, and slow-healing sores on the toes.

Expert Insight

Some people with PAD experience no severe symptoms. “Screenings are important for those who are over 50 years old and have risk factors such as diabetes, heart disease or who smoke,” says Dr. Denis Raleigh, a thoracic and vascular surgeon.


Quitting smoking, lowering cholesterol, increasing exercise and following a healthy diet are among the highest priorities for treatment, says PADcoalition.org. Medication and, in extreme cases, surgery may be necessary.


In addition to the risk of death or disability from stroke or heart attack, untreated PAD also may lead to gangrene or tissue death, occasionally necessitating the amputation of a limb.