Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD)

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a form of peripheral vascular disease (PVD), which is reduced blood flow (ischemia) in the arteries and veins outside your heart and brain. Arteries carry oxygen-rich blood away from the heart to the body, and veins carry oxygen-depleted blood back to the heart.

Peripheral arterial disease is a circulatory problem that affects only the arteries. With PAD, narrowed arteries reduce blood flow to your extremities (legs, feet, arms and hands), stomach and intestines, kidneys and head. As a result, these parts of your body don’t receive enough oxygenated blood to keep up with demand, causing pain or impairing the function of certain organs.

This narrowing of the arteries is due to atherosclerosis, also called hardening of the arteries. As you age, a sticky substance called plaque can build up in your artery walls, causing your arteries to narrow and stiffen, and reducing blood flow.

Vascular surgeons are uniquely qualified to diagnose and treat peripheral arterial disease, and the Division of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery at Cooper University Health Care is a national leader in this field.

Why Choose Cooper to Treat Peripheral Arterial Disease?

Our vascular and endovascular surgeons have extensive experience diagnosing and treating peripheral arterial disease, seeing more patients with this condition than any other hospital in South Jersey.

Notably, Cooper is a high-volume center for lower-extremity limb salvage procedures, highly specialized surgical interventions to avoid the need for amputation. It’s a depth of experience that has enabled us to save the limbs of hundreds of patients who have severe blockages in their arteries.

With a full array of treatment options, including minimally invasive endovascular techniques, our expert surgeons are able to tailor the best approach for your individual situation.

Peripheral Arterial Disease Risk Factors

The risk factors for having peripheral arterial disease are the same as for having coronary heart disease, including:                   

  • Smoking
  • High cholesterol levels in the blood
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Having a family history of heart or vascular disease

Peripheral Arterial Disease Symptoms

The symptoms of peripheral arterial disease depend on where in your body you have atherosclerosis:

  • Leg pain (claudication) is a sign of narrowing of the leg arteries, the most common form of PAD.
  • Gangrene: Without treatment, PAD may progress, resulting in serious tissue damage in the form of sores or gangrene (tissue death) due to inadequate blood flow
  • Severe stomach pain may be a sign of mesenteric ischemia, reduced blood flow to the stomach and intestines
  • Transient ischemic attack (TIA) or a “mini-stroke” is a sign of carotid artery disease, narrowing of the arteries in the neck

How Peripheral Arterial Disease Is Diagnosed

After reviewing your medical history, general health and symptoms, your doctor will perform a physical examination. As part of this exam, your physician will test your pulse at various sites on your body to assess your arteries’ circulation strength, and use a stethoscope to listen to the blood flowing through your arteries.

If your physician suspects PAD, he or she may order additional tests, such as:

  • Ankle-brachial index (ABI), which compares the blood pressure in your arms and legs
  • Pulse volume recording, which measures the volume of blood at various points in your legs
  • Duplex ultrasound, a non-invasive test that uses sound waves to visualize blood flow problems
  • Blood tests for cholesterol, high blood sugar or other markers for artery disease
  • Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA), using magnetic resonance imaging techniques to visualize blood vessels
  • Computed tomographic angiography (CTA), which takes detailed X-rays to identify problems with arteries or abdominal organs
  • Angiogram (also called an arteriogram), a more invasive imaging test that uses X-rays and a special dye to see inside the arteries

How Peripheral Arterial Disease Is Treated

There are two overall goals in treating peripheral arterial disease: to manage symptoms, such as leg pain, so you can maintain an active lifestyle; and to stop the progression of atherosclerosis to reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke or limb loss.

Treatment for peripheral artery disease is based on your individual symptoms, risk factors, and test results, and may include:

  • Heart-healthy lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, regular exercise and better nutrition
  • Medications to manage blood pressure, cholesterol and other risk factors
  • Surgery
    • Bypass grafting: If blood flow in a limb or to an organ is blocked, your vascular surgeon uses a blood vessel from another part of your body or a synthetic tube to go around (bypass) the blocked part of the artery, allowing blood to flow around the blockage and increase circulation to the affected area
    • Carotid endarterectomy: Surgery to remove plaque in the carotid arteries
    • Limb salvage: Advanced procedures to prevent the need for amputation
    • Amputation: In extreme cases of PAD, called critical limb ischemia (CLI), removal of part of the leg or foot may be necessary
  • Minimally invasive endovascular procedures
    • Balloon angioplasty and stenting
    • Atherectomy: A procedure using a catheter to insert a small cutting device into a blocked artery to shave or cut off plaque; doctors also can perform this procedure using a special laser to dissolve blockages

Contact Us

To learn more about the services available in the Division of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery or to schedule an appointment, please call 856.342.2151.

Refer a Patient

If you are a doctor who wants to refer a patient to the Division of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery, please call 856.968.7067.