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Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)

Peripheral artery disease also referred to as peripheral arterial disease or PAD, is a narrowing of the blood vessels outside the heart and brain.

It's a fairly common vascular problem, affecting about 8 million people in the United States.

At the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute, surgeons in the Division of Vascular Surgery treat PAD and a full range of other vascular-related diseases and conditions.

Contact the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute

To request an appointment, contact the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute:

What Is Peripheral Artery Disease?

Peripheral artery disease — also called peripheral arterial disease or PAD — is usually caused by a gradual build-up of plaque within the arteries (atherosclerosis).

As the arteries become narrowed, it reduces essential blood flow to the limbs and organs — most commonly the:

  • Arms
  • Legs
  • Neck
  • Abdomen

PAD complications

  • Reduced blood flow to the affected limbs and organs will damage their function.
  • PAD in the legs and feet causes difficulty walking.
  • In its most severe forms, PAD can cause painful foot ulcers, infections, and even gangrene.
  • People with PAD are also at high risk for heart attack and stroke.

Why choose UPMC's Division of Vascular Surgery for PAD care?

  • Our coordinated PAD treatment approach — our team of endovascular and vascular surgeons works closely with other specialists throughout the Heart and Vascular Institute to ensure a complete care.
  • Our vascular surgeons — specialists in minimally invasive therapies for PAD, which they helped pioneer for the entire vascular system.
  • Our experience — our experts perform hundreds of procedures every year. UPMC also is a major referral center for patients with PAD or other complicated vascular conditions. 

Read more about peripheral artery disease in our Health Library.

Peripheral Artery Disease Symptoms and Diagnosis

Peripheral artery disease symptoms

Peripheral artery or arterial disease (PAD) can develop over a lifetime with varying symptoms.

Early PAD symptoms include:

  • Leg discomfort
  • Leg pain or cramping that develops with walking and is relieved at rest (intermittent claudication)
  • Pain in the ball of the foot or toes, while at rest, as PAD progresses

The most severe forms of PAD can cause:

  • Painful foot ulcers
  • Blue or black discoloration of the toes
  • Infections
  • Gangrene
  • Amputation, when left untreated

Diagnosing peripheral artery disease

In most cases, your doctor at the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute can diagnose PAD through a physical exam but can't always measure its severity, especially if you have another condition such as diabetes.

To measure the severity of PAD, your doctor will order noninvasive tests such as:

  • A Doppler ultrasound scan
  • An ankle-brachial index to measure blood pressure at the ankle and in the arm, the standard measure used to gauge the severity of PAD

In some cases, to confirm a PAD diagnosis, you may need additional tests like:

  • CT scans
  • MRI scans
  • Cardiac catheterization (also called a coronary angiogram)

PAD testing results

Your doctor or nurse will tell you when to expect your test results and will call you when they're available. 

Learn More About Peripheral Artery Disease Symptoms and Tests 

From our Health Library at

Peripheral Artery Disease Treatment

At the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute, our vascular surgeons offer a full range of treatments for peripheral artery disease (PAD).

Based on the severity of your condition, we will work with you to determine which treatment option is right for you.

  • Mild severity
    • Positive lifestyle changes, including regular exercise and walking
    • Medicines
  • Moderate severity
    • Minimally invasive therapies:
      • Balloon angioplasty and stenting
      • Lasers and athertectomy catheters
    • Leg bypass surgery to create a detour around a narrowed or blocked leg artery
  • Severe
    • Amputation

Exploring new PAD treatments

UPMC's vascular surgeons have participated in several large research studies of stenting and in even more cutting-edge research to treat PAD, including:

  • Stem cell research
  • The development of new balloons and devices 

Learn More About Peripheral Artery Disease Treatments 

From our Health Library at