Health Information and Tools > Patient Care Handouts >  Learning About Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD)

Main Content

Learning About Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD)

A leg artery narrowed by plaque.

What is peripheral arterial disease?

Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is narrowing or blockage of arteries that causes poor blood flow to your arms and legs. PAD is most common in the legs.

PAD is often caused by fatty buildup (plaque) in the arteries. Over time, plaque builds up in the walls of the arteries, including those that supply blood to your legs. This can limit blood flow to the muscles and other tissues of the legs. PAD can make it hard for you to walk. It can also lead to tissue death. Sometimes part of the leg must be removed by surgery (amputation).

If you have PAD, you're also likely to have plaque in other arteries in your body. This raises your risk of a heart attack and stroke.

Peripheral arterial disease is also called peripheral vascular disease.

What are the symptoms?

Many people who have PAD don't have symptoms.

If you have symptoms, they may include a tight, aching, or squeezing pain in your calf, thigh, or buttock. This pain is called intermittent claudication. It usually happens after you have walked a certain distance. The pain usually goes away when you stop walking.

Other symptoms may include weak or tired legs. You might have trouble walking or balancing.

If PAD gets worse, you may have other symptoms caused by poor blood flow to your legs and feet. You may have cold, tingly, weak, or numb feet or toes, sores that are slow to heal, or leg or foot pain when you're at rest. The skin on your legs or feet might change colour. It may be pale, bluish, or purplish. Your skin may look shiny or have blisters.

How can you help prevent PAD?

  • Try to quit or cut back on using tobacco and other nicotine products. This includes smoking and vaping. Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do to help prevent PAD. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good. Try to avoid second-hand smoke too.
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet that includes vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, lean meat, fish, and whole grains. Limit alcohol, sodium, and sugar.
  • Get regular exercise. Try for 2½ hours a week. You may want to walk, swim, bike, or do other activities. Ask your doctor what level of exercise is safe for you.
  • Stay at a weight that's healthy for you. Talk to your doctor if you need help losing weight.
  • Try to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.
  • Manage other health problems, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. If you think you may have a problem with alcohol or drug use, talk to your doctor.

How is PAD treated?

Treatment for PAD focuses on relieving symptoms, slowing the progress of the disease, and lowering your risk of heart attack and stroke.

Having a heart-healthy lifestyle can help you manage PAD. This lifestyle includes eating healthy foods, being active, staying at a weight that is healthy for you, getting enough sleep, and trying to quit or cut back on smoking or using other nicotine products.

If you have symptoms when you exercise, your doctor might recommend a specialized exercise program that may relieve symptoms. The goal is to be able to walk farther without pain.

You will likely take medicines to help lower your risk of heart attack and stroke. These include medicine to prevent blood clots, improve cholesterol, or lower blood pressure. You also may take a medicine that can help ease pain while you are walking.

People who have severe PAD may have bypass surgery or a procedure called angioplasty to improve blood flow to the legs.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

Enter S467 in the search box to learn more about "Learning About Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD)".

Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.