Prevent PAD—A Common Complication in People Over 50 with Diabetes

Information about peripheral artery disease (PAD) from Simeon Margolis, M.D., Ph.D., professor of medicine and biological chemistry, Johns Hopkins Medicine

Has leg pain been cramping your style while you're walking? If so, it could be a sign of peripheral arterial disease (PAD), a condition that affects approximately one-third of people over 50 with diabetes. The number of people with PAD worldwide has risen by 23.5 percent in the past 10 years.

Having PAD puts you at greater risk for a heart attack or stroke; if it occurs in conjunction with neuropathy, it can lead to tissue death and increase your risk for amputation.

How PAD Happens

PAD occurs when fatty deposits—atherosclerotic plaques—build up in the arteries of your legs and reduce blood flow. Smoking and diabetes are the major risk factors, along with high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels. People who have had a heart attack or stroke are at increased risk.

The American Diabetes Association recommends that people with diabetes over age 50 get an ankle brachial index (ABI) test, which compares blood pressure in your ankle with that in your arm; if the blood pressure is lower in your ankle, you may have PAD.

What PAD Feels Like

The hallmark symptom of PAD is mild cramping pain in the calves, thighs or buttocks that occurs while walking and is quickly relieved by a short rest. As the condition worsens, pain strikes after walking shorter and shorter distances.

What You Can Do

You can prevent or slow the progression of PAD by not smoking and by controlling blood pressure and cholesterol levels. The best way to alleviate PAD? Walking short distances several times a week, which will gradually increase how far you can walk without pain. A doctor may also prescribe drugs that lower cholesterol, reduce blood pressure and prevent blood clots; in some cases, an angioplasty or bypass surgery may be required to remove blockages.

From our sister publication Diabetes Focus Winter 2013

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 08 Oct 2013

Last Modified: 11 Sep 2015