What is the Main Cause of Peripheral Artery Disease?

What is the Main Cause of Peripheral Artery Disease?

The most common cause of Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) is the build-up of plaque deposits that results in a lack of blood flow in the arteries around one’s lower extremities. This condition is called atherosclerosis and it appears symptomatically as pain and cramping in the legs and feet.  


Damage to the inner layers of the arteries is what makes atherosclerosis occur. This damage causes arteries to narrow and harden by accumulating plaque deposits (which are filled with fat, cholesterol, and calcium.) 

These blockages make it more difficult for blood to flow to your legs and feet which might symptomatically appear along with the following issues: 

  • Pain and numbness in the hips, legs, feet, calves, etc. 
  • Sores and infections that refuse to go away 
  • Discoloration and other physical changes in the legs and feet 

In extreme forms, atherosclerosis can result in an infection of the legs and feet called Critical Limb Ischemia (CLI.) Which could, ultimately, lead to the loss of one of your limbs. Alternatively, PAD also exists asymptomatically. Which means, that the blockages do not result in any pain or obvious symptoms.  

Causes of Atherosclerosis 

Atherosclerosis is the main cause of Peripheral Artery Disease, but the cause of atherosclerosis is still unclear. There are studies that have introduced links to this condition and certain factors, but it remains a complex condition that is thought to progress as one ages.  

  • Smoking Tobacco: One of the factors said to have caused atherosclerosis is the act of smoking tobacco. Smoking takes on a more active form in this process. It’s been said to directly damage the inner layers of arteries. The body then attempts to heal itself in the form of plaque build-up. Which leads to further damage in the form of clots and artery obstruction.  According to the NIH, one quick and effective way of preventing PAD is to simply stop smoking altogether.  
  • Sedentary Lifestyles: Another factor that might result in PAD is a lack of activity. Similar to quitting smoking, there are studies that conclude that increasing physical activity, has been said to prevent the progression of PAD.  
  • Diabetes & High levels of Cholesterol or Blood Pressure: Diabetes has also been linked to increasing the risk and the severity of PAD. This link is a little bit different from the previous. In that, if left untreated or unmonitored, high levels of glucose, cholesterol, and blood pressure might result in increased risk of heart attacks and stroke.  
  • Inflammation: A lesser known cause of plaque build-up in the arteries is blood vessel inflammation. This could be due to a previous injury or exposure to radiation. Anything that might have unnaturally affected the workings of your legs and feet. 

Conclusion: What is the Main Cause of Peripheral Artery Disease? 

In short and simple terms, the main cause of Peripheral Artery Disease is the build-up inside of arteries that prevent the flow of blood in the legs and feet. This condition, called atherosclerosis, blocks up the body in a way that could result in pain and unnatural physical changes to the lower half of your body.  

As for atherosclerosis itself, the causes are less unclear. It’s a condition that progresses as we age, which makes older people (around 50 or 70 years old) more likely to experience it. What is known about this condition, is the fact that it can be prevented from occurring or progressing by actively maintaining a healthy lifestyle  



  1. Lu, J T, and M A Creager. “The Relationship of Cigarette Smoking to Peripheral Arterial Disease.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2004, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15580157. 
  2. “Smoking and Your Heart.” National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/smoking-and-your-heart.