Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a condition that affects the arteries all around your body, not including those that supply the heart (coronary arteries) or the brain (cerebrovascular arteries). This includes arteries in your legs, arms, and other parts of your body.

PAD develops when fatty deposits or plaque accumulate on the walls of your arteries. This causes inflammation in the walls of the arteries and reduces blood flow to these parts of the body. Reduced blood flow can damage tissue, and if left untreated, lead to amputation of a limb.

PAD affects 8 to 12 million people in the United States, and occurs more often in those over the age of 50, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Risk factors for PAD include smoking, high blood pressure, and a history of diabetes or heart disease. Symptoms can include:

  • pain or numbness in the legs or arms, especially with walking or exercise
  • weakness
  • poor nail growth
  • lower body temperature in your legs or arms (cool feet)
  • lack of hair and shiny skin on the legs
  • slow healing wounds

PAD can raise the risk of a stroke or heart attack because people who have atherosclerosis in these arteries can also have it in other arteries. But treatments are available to prevent life threatening complications. Here’s a look at seven ways to treat and manage PAD.

The goal of treatment for PAD is to improve blood flow and reduce blood clots in the blood vessels. Treatment also aims to lower blood pressure and cholesterol to prevent further PAD.

Since plaque accumulation causes this disease, your doctor will prescribe a statin. This is a type of cholesterol-lowering drug that can also reduce inflammation. Statins can improve the overall health of your arteries and reduce your risk of a heart attack and stroke.

Your doctor may also prescribe a medication to reduce your blood pressure. Examples includes ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers, diuretics, angiotensin II receptor blockers, and calcium channel blockers. Your doctor can also recommend drugs to prevent blood clots, such as a daily aspirin or another prescription medication or a blood thinner.

If you have diabetes, it’s important to take your medication as directed to maintain a healthy blood sugar level.

If you have pain in your limbs, your doctor may also prescribe medication such as cilostazol (Pletal) or pentoxifylline (Trental). These medications can help your blood flow more easily, which can reduce your pain.

Increasing your activity level can improve your symptoms of PAD and help you feel better.

Regular physical activity helps stabilize blood pressure and cholesterol levels. This reduces the amount of plaque in your arteries. Exercise also improves blood circulation and blood flow.

Your doctor may recommend treatment in a rehabilitation center where you’ll exercise under the guidance of a healthcare professional. This might include walking on a treadmill or performing exercises that specifically work your legs and arms.

You can also start your own exercise routine with activities like regular walking, biking, and swimming. Aim for 150 minutes of physical activity each week. Start slowly and gradually build up to this goal.

Smoking constricts your blood vessels, which can lead to high blood pressure. It can also increase your risk of complications like a heart attack or stroke and cause damage to the walls of the blood vessels.

Quitting smoking doesn’t only improve your overall health, but it can also restore blood flow and reduce the progression of PAD. To quit smoking, explore different nicotine replacement options to curb your cravings. This may include nicotine gum, sprays, or patches.

In addition, some medications can help you successfully quit. Consult your doctor to explore your options.

Diet also plays a big role in slowing the progression of PAD. Eating high-fat food and high-sodium foods can increase your cholesterol levels and drive high blood pressure. These changes lead to increases in plaque production in your arteries.

Incorporate more healthy foods into your diet, such as:

  • fresh fruits and vegetables
  • low-sodium canned vegetables
  • whole-wheat grains
  • omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish
  • lean proteins
  • low-fat or fat-free dairy

Try to avoid foods that increase cholesterol and blood fat levels. These include fried foods, junk foods, other high-fat and high-sodium foods. Some examples include chips, donuts, refined carbohydrates, and processed meats.

If left untreated, PAD can lead to tissue death and possible amputation. Because of this, it’s important to manage diabetes and keep your feet in good condition.

If you have PAD and diabetes, it may take longer for injuries on your feet or legs to heal. As a result, you may be at an increased risk for infection.

Follow these steps to keep your feet healthy:

  • wash your feet daily
  • apply moisturizer to cracked skin
  • wear thick socks to prevent injuries
  • apply topical antibiotic cream to cuts
  • inspect your feet for wounds or ulcers

See your doctor if a sore on your foot doesn’t heal or worsens.

In severe cases of PAD, medication and lifestyle changes may not improve your condition. If so, your doctor may recommend surgery to help restore proper blood flow to a blocked artery.

Procedures can include angioplasty with a balloon or a stent to open up an artery and keep it open.

Your doctor may also need to perform bypass surgery. This involves removing a blood vessel from another part of your body and using it to create a graft. This allows blood to flow around a blocked artery, like creating a detour.

Your doctor can also inject medication into a blocked artery to break up a blood clot and restore blood flow.

Early PAD doesn’t always have symptoms, and symptoms that do appear can often be subtle. If you have risk factors for this condition and develop muscle pain, weakness in limbs, or leg cramps, see a doctor.

PAD can progress and lead to serious complications, so early treatment is important to improve your overall health.