Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD)

About 10 million Americans have peripheral arterial disease (also called peripheral artery disease) or PAD, which is a vascular arterial disease that causes blockages in the arteries to the legs. The difference between peripheral arterial disease, also called peripheral artery disease, and heart disease (CAD) is that the blockages are outside the heart, specifically in the arteries of the abdomen, pelvis and legs. Some terms patients with peripheral arterial disease may also hear are peripheral vascular disease (PVD) or peripheral vascular occlusive disease (PVOD). These terms are more generalized, also encompassing arteries outside the heart but including those in the neck and kidneys as well as the legs.

Symptoms of Peripheral Artery Disease

Common symptoms of PAD include:

  • Chronic lower leg pain (in one or both legs, walking and sometimes at rest)
  • Numbness in one or both feet or legs
  • Cold feet
  • Blue-colored toes
  • Chronic wounds or ulcers on the legs or feet

While peripheral arterial disease isn’t in itself life threatening, it does greatly affect quality of life, and can be a red-flag warning of more serious conditions, including heart disease, which, if not properly managed, can lead to heart attack or stroke. To learn more, go to our Frequently Asked Questions About PAD page.

PAD, Diabetes and Amputation

Patients with diabetes are at increased risk for peripheral arterial disease because their blood glucose, or blood sugar, levels are not within normal range. This causes damage to the walls of the blood vessels, making them thicker and less elastic, causing a buildup of plaque, which results in peripheral arterial disease.

For many patients, signs of PAD are first discovered by a podiatrist, a specialist in foot care and surgery. The podiatrist may notice discoloration of the toes, or even a chronic wound. Podiatrists may also notice absent pulses or recognize a classic sign of peripheral arterial disease: dangling  the leg, which can provide some relief from rest pain by using gravity to improve blood flow. 

Though patients with very serious peripheral arterial disease may even be told they could face limb amputation, there is still hope. There are many treatments they can try that can not only improve quality of life but also save their limb.

About the University of Michigan Peripheral Arterial Disease Program

Team Approach Means Better Patient Care

Traditionally vascular surgeons have managed PAD, but more recently three additional groups of physicians now can take care of a patient with peripheral arterial disease:

  • Interventional cardiologists
  • Interventional radiologists
  • Vascular medicine specialists

Though in many hospitals these groups compete for patients, at the University of Michigan’s Peripheral Arterial Disease Program, we have brought these groups together to work as a team for their patients. You are evaluated by physicians in all of the above disciplines. All of them work together to create a treatment plan tailored to you. We also offer programs in smoking cessation, dietary counseling, wound care and prosthetics for a true group effort toward your care. Few other centers offer such a complete PAD treatment program.

Any patient with peripheral arterial disease can be seen in the clinic, from mild cases to limb-threatening, disabling conditions. Patients who have already been diagnosed with PAD, claudication, an abnormal ABI test result, and/or non-healing ulcers due to arterial insufficiency are seen within 48 hours after we have been contacted by a referring physician. We are able to handle emergent cases at any time.

A PAD Treatment Plan Designed for Your Needs

A simple ankle-brachial index test will let us know if you have a blockage that is slowing down your blood flow. Imaging studies are then used to locate and get more information about the blockage. Our Noninvasive Diagnostic Vascular Laboratory performs more than 20,000 imaging studies annually and is accredited by the Intersocietal Accreditation Commission (IAC).

Depending on the severity of your peripheral arterial disease, we offer various treatments. PAD treatments focus primarily on lowering your risk factors combined with medical (non-surgical) therapies. If PAD reduces blood flow to such an extent that walking is affected, you experience pain at rest, or a wound or sore doesn't heal properly, you may need intervention or surgery. Learn more about PAD treatments.

Patient Resources

Amputation Information Guide

Carotid Artery Disease Information Guide

Peripheral Artery Disease Information Guide

Make an Appointment

To make an appointment to discuss your need for a PAD treatment plan designed for your specific needs, contact us toll-free at 888-287-1082 or email us at CVCCallCtr@med.umich.edu. To learn more about what to expect when you call us, visit our Make an Appointment page.