diseased artery
A normal artery is shown on the left and a diseased artery with significant plaque is on the right.

The University of Chicago Medicine is uniquely positioned in the community to provide advanced treatment for patients who have a higher risk of developing peripheral arterial disease. Peripheral artery disease (PAD), also known as peripheral vascular disease, is most often caused by atherosclerosis — plaque formation in arteries that supply blood to the extremities, such as legs and arms. When these fatty deposits collect in arteries and harden, it narrows the opening and blocks effective blood flow.

Peripheral Artery Disease Symptoms &  Causes

Peripheral artery disease is associated with a range of symptoms, including:

  • Leg cramps during exercise (claudication)
  • Numbness to severe foot pain at rest (rest pain)
  • Wounds in the feet that are slow to heal
  • Leg or foot coldness or coloration
  • Slower growth of toenails
  • Soreness of toes, feet or legs that are not healing

If you are experiencing one or more of these symptoms, please reach out to your doctor to evaluate your condition. If you are not proactive about your health, untreated peripheral artery disease can progress to gangrene and potential limb loss.

While some risk factors for developing PAD correlate with existing health concerns, such as family history of atherosclerosis, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, other risk factors can be lessened through behavioral modifications such as increasing activity and stopping smoking.

Diagnosing Peripheral Artery Disease

Peripheral artery disease often is asymptomatic. When pain does occur, it may be mistaken for other conditions. Early diagnosis will reduce the risk of limb loss and the need for more invasive procedures.

Peripheral Arterial Disease Treatment Options

We offer both nonsurgical and surgical treatments for our patients, and we recommend the best and safest option for each patient. In some cases, our experts will help the patient manage their risk of peripheral artery disease through medical treatments and advise an exercise program.

For more serious cases, patients may require transluminal balloon angioplasty — a minimally invasive procedure using the insertion of a catheter (small, thin tube) through an artery in the upper thigh (femoral artery) to open an arterial narrowing or blockage. However, for patients who are good candidates for minimally invasive treatment but do not have the proper anatomy to support access through the femoral arterial, our interventional cardiologists can use a drug-coated balloon that allows treatment through the radial artery – inserting of a catheter (small, thin tube) through an artery in the wrist. Through radial artery access, patients can experience less bleeding, an increase in patient comfort and faster recovery. 

The most severe cases of peripheral artery disease might require bypass grafting. In this procedure, a surgeon attaches an alternative blood vessel (either a prosthetic tube or the patient's own vein) to the blocked artery, creating a new, unobstructed passage through which blood can flow.