Peripheral Artery Disease

Causes

The most common cause of peripheral artery disease is atherosclerosis, a buildup of plaque (deposits of cholesterol, fats, and other substances) in the walls of your arteries. If plaques become large enough, they can reduce blood flow through the artery. Plaques can also rupture, causing a blood clot to form in the artery, which can further reduce or completely block blood flow.

Differences Between Peripheral Artery Disease & Coronary Artery Disease

Atherosclerosis in the arteries that supply blood to the heart causes coronary artery disease.  Atherosclerosis in the “peripheral” arteries (outside or away from the heart) causes peripheral artery disease. Because these two conditions are both caused by atherosclerosis, many people with peripheral artery disease also have coronary artery disease.

Peripheral artery disease and coronary artery disease share the same risk factors as well.  Risk factors for peripheral artery disease include:

  • A history of smoking*
  • Diabetes*
  • Older age
  • Male gender
  • Black race
  • Family history of cardiovascular disease (heart attack, stroke) at an early age (40s for men; 50s for women)
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity

*Smoking and diabetes are the strongest risk factors for peripheral artery disease.

Updated: November 2016