Causes and Risk Factors for PAD

Peripheral artery disease is caused by the build up of fatty deposits (called plaque) in the arteries that supply blood to the limbs (usually the legs and feet). This in turn leads to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), which reduces blood flow to the legs.

There are a number of risk factors for developing PAD. Some of these factors can be controlled (called modifiable risk factors) and some cannot (called unmodifiable risk factors).

PAD risk factors that can be controlled or managed include the following:

  • Cigarette smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Diet high in fat and cholesterol
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • High cholesterol (hypercholesteremia)
  • Obesity/overweight
  • Physical inactivity (lack of exercise)

Risk factors for peripheral artery disease that cannot be controlled include the following:

  • Age (more common over the age of 50)
  • Family or personal history of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart attack, stroke, or heart disease (cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis)
  • Gender (more common in men)
  • Severe kidney disease that requires dialysis

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 13 May 2008

Last Modified: 29 Sep 2015