Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) in Seniors

Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) in seniors is a common circulatory condition that affects 8.5 million Americans over the age of 40 and is associated with diminished quality of life if not addressed in its earlier stages. PAD occurs when there is reduced blood flow to the limbs, primarily the legs, due to narrow or blocked arteries. This can result in various symptoms and complications that hamper one’s quality of life.
Woman suffering from leg pain due to peripheral arterial disease in seniors

Common Causes of Peripheral Arterial Disease

Numerous factors contribute to the development of PAD. Common peripheral arterial disease causes include:
  • Atherosclerosis: The primary cause of PAD is atherosclerosis, which occurs when fatty deposits build up in the arteries over time, narrowing the blood vessels, reducing blood flow, and decreasing the delivery of oxygenated blood from the heart to organs and muscle tissue.
  • Smoking: Cigarette smoking significantly increases the risk of PAD. The harmful chemicals in cigarette smoke damage the inner lining of blood vessels, leading to inflammation and plaque formation.
  • Diabetes: High blood sugar levels associated with diabetes can damage blood vessels and accelerate the progression of atherosclerosis.
  • High Blood Pressure (Hypertension): Elevated blood pressure can damage the delicate inner lining of arteries, contributing to plaque formation and narrowing of the vessels.
Older man sitting on the couch while holding his leg in pain due to peripheral arterial disease in seniors

Symptoms of Peripheral Arterial Disease

PAD often goes undiagnosed in its early stages, as symptoms may be mild or mistaken for other conditions. However, as the disease progresses, the following symptoms of peripheral arterial disease may become apparent:
  • Intermittent Claudication: Pain, cramping, or fatigue in the muscles of the legs, hips, or buttocks, especially during physical activity. The discomfort typically subsides with rest.
  • Leg Numbness or Weakness: Reduced blood flow can cause sensations of numbness or weakness in the legs.
  • Slow-Healing Wounds: Poor circulation can impair the body’s ability to heal wounds, resulting in non-healing sores or ulcers on the legs or feet.
  • Coldness and Hair Loss: The affected leg may feel colder than the rest of the body, and there may be decreased hair growth on the legs or feet.

How Does a Doctor Diagnose Peripheral Arterial Disease?

A senior healthcare provider will start by assessing your risk of peripheral arterial disease, asking about your smoking history and previous medical conditions such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol. A physical exam will be done to assess muscle tone, and changes to the skin, including color, hair distribution, temperature, the presence of sores or ulcers, and the presence and quality of the pulses to the legs and feet. The senior primary care provider may perform a noninvasive test called an ankle-brachial index (ABI) that compares the blood pressure in the arms and the legs. If the ABI is abnormal, peripheral arterial disease can be diagnosed.


Lower Extremity Ultrasound

A non-invasive test that examines the blood flow of the arteries in the legs and can also detect any blockages


Computed Tomographic (CT) Angiography

Another non-invasive test that utilizes contrast dye injected into the veins to produces images of the arteries, detecting any narrowing or blockages from atherosclerosis.


Peripheral Angiography

A surgical procedure that uses x-ray imaging, contrast dye, and a catheter inserted into an artery to directly visualize the inside of the arteries in the legs.

Peripheral Arterial Disease Treatment Options

Early diagnosis and appropriate management of PAD are crucial for preventing further complications. Treatment for peripheral arterial disease may include the following.

Lifestyle Modifications

Adopting a healthy lifestyle can help manage PAD symptoms and slow down disease progression. This includes regular exercise, smoking cessation, a balanced diet, and weight management.


Medications may be prescribed to manage underlying conditions such as high blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar control. Additionally, antiplatelet drugs or anticoagulants may be used to prevent blood clots.

Angioplasty with Stenting

In cases of severe artery blockage, a minimally invasive procedure called angioplasty may be performed. This involves inserting a balloon-tipped catheter that is inflated to widen the narrowed artery. A stent may be placed to help keep the artery open.

Bypass Surgery

In advanced cases, a surgical procedure may be required to bypass or reroute blood flow around blocked arteries to improve circulation.

Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) Treatment at Greater Good Health

At Greater Good Health, we are committed to providing the highest quality care, including peripheral arterial disease treatment in senior-focused primary care. We also offer preventive care services and chronic condition management. Find a primary care clinic near you, and contact us today to get started.
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