Can a Person Die from Peripheral Artery Disease?

Can a Person Die from Peripheral Artery Disease?

Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) is a common circulatory condition characterized by widespread atherosclerosis — plaque build-up in arteries. This obstruction has been linked to issues as mild as claudication and as severe as gangrene and amputation of the legs and feet.  

However, death is not normally linked to PAD, unless the patient has shown signs of or are involved with other risk factors.  

Complications Linked to PAD 

PAD exists both symptomatically and asymptomatically. That means, that someone with PAD may or may not display the symptoms normally linked to the condition. Common complications that might be displayed in symptomatic PAD patients include:  

  • Numbness and pain in the lower extremities — including the hips, thighs, calves, legs, and feet (claudication)  
  • Slow healing factor that might result in open sores or infection in the toes, feet, or legs.  
  • Physical changes in the legs and feet 

These are non-fatal symptoms that might increase the occurrence of fatal events like gangrene and amputation. However, they will not (directly) lead to death. Such mortality risk is rare in patients with PAD alone but might be exacerbated in patients that are exposed to certain risk factors.  

Risk Factors that Can Potentially Result in Death 

Risk factors include the patient’s age (atherosclerosis progresses with age), the presence of diabetes, history with smoking, and obesity or high blood pressure. The presence of these risk factors might result in a person dying or experiencing fatal events. Including the following:  

  • Critical Limb Ischemia: Critical Limb Ischemia (CLI) is the severe form of claudication. A study conducted in 1988 noted that smoking has been associated with increasing the progression of atherosclerosis in patients with PAD. This progression leads to open sores that do not heal and in turn infect the feet and legs, which can lead to gangrene, eventual amputation, and possible death.  
  • Fat Build-Up in the Heart and Brain: Progression of atherosclerosis is also not necessarily contained in the legs and feet. PAD can very well be extended to fat build-up to the patient’s heart and brain as well. This, unlike claudication, is dangerously undiagnosed, undertreated, and has been found to highly increase mortality risk among patients.

The latter is especially true for patients with diabetes. Patients with both PAD and diabetes, as a result of increased coronary and cardiovascular issues, have been studied to have a higher risk of experiencing Myocardial Infarction (MI), stroke, and death.  

Can a Person Die from Peripheral Artery Disease? 

In conclusion, there are certain factors that might result in the death of someone that has PAD (symptomatic or otherwise.) To prevent and diagnose such risk, it is important that men and women over the age of 50 have an ABI performed. Especially those that have a history of smoking and have or are at risk for diabetes.  



  1. Lassila, R, and M Lepäntalo. “Cigarette Smoking and the Outcome after Lower Limb Arterial Surgery.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine,  
  2. “Peripheral Arterial Disease in People with Diabetes.” Diabetes Care, American Diabetes Association, 1 Dec. 2003,