Skip Navigation Bar
NIH MedlinePlus the Magazine, Trusted Health Information from the National Institutes of Health

What Most Women Don't Know About P.A.D.

"I used to go on long hikes with my husband, but now my legs get tired so quickly, I can't
go any more."
—Susan, 54 years old

"I don't know what's happened to me. I have an awful pain in my right calf after just 10 minutes of walking. It feels like someone put a clamp on my leg."
—Caroline, 60 years old

"When I walk, I get an aching pain—like a charley horse—in my left leg. When I go shopping, the pain gets so bad I can only walk for about five or six minutes before I have to sit down and rest.
I must be getting old."
—Barbara, 65 years old

September is National P.A.D. Month. A new campaign has begun to alert women to the dangers of peripheral arterial disease. P.A.D. can increase heart disease—the No. 1 killer of women.

Do the comments at left sound familiar? How many times have you heard family members or friends complain about leg pain and chalk it off to "old age?"

Peripheral arterial disease, or P.A.D., may be the cause of their leg pain. But, according to a recent survey by the P.A.D. Coalition, an alliance of health organizations, only 28 percent of American women have even heard of this serious condition. This is alarming, since P.A.D. is a common and dangerous disease that affects about nine million Americans, half of whom are women. That's 1 in 20 over age 50 and 1 in 5 over age 70.

To call attention to this little-known threat, the P.A.D. Coalition and WomenHeart, the National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease, developed the educational campaign. The campaign is in support of "Stay in Circulation: Take Steps to Learn About P.A.D.," a nationwide effort sponsored by the NIH's National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and more than 80 health organizations, vascular health societies, and government agencies.

two women walking

Photo: Getty Images

P.A.D. occurs when fatty deposits clog arteries in the legs, reducing blood flow and causing leg pain when walking. Left untreated, P.A.D. can lead to disability, amputation (losing a foot or leg), and poor quality of life. Having P.A.D. also means an increased risk of heart attack or stroke. Blocked arteries found in people with P.A.D. can be a red flag that other arteries, including those in the heart and brain, may also be blocked. In the short term, having P.A.D. markedly increases your risk for heart attack, stroke, amputation, and death. In the long term, people with P.A.D. have a two- to six-fold increased risk of a heart attack or a stroke.

"Symptoms of P.A.D. should not be mistaken for inevitable consequences of aging," says NHLBI Director Elizabeth G. Nabel, M.D. "Early detection and treatment of P.A.D. are important for staying in circulation and continuing to enjoy life to the fullest."

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of American women. While many women now know about the risk factors for heart disease—high blood pressure, not exercising, high cholesterol, high blood fats, and high blood sugar—most women are not aware that if you have P.A.D., you are at increased risk for heart disease and stroke. In fact, P.A.D. is caused by the very same conditions and lifestyle behaviors that cause heart disease and stroke.

Fast Facts

  • P.A.D. occurs when arteries in the legs become clogged with fatty deposits.
  • Signs of P.A.D. include:
    • Cramps, tiredness, or pain in your leg muscles that occurs when you walk but goes away with rest.
    • Foot or toe pain at rest that often disturbs your sleep.Skin wounds or ulcers on your feet or toes that are slow to heal.

To Find Out More

For more information about P.A.D. and to download free education materials, visit:

Risk Factors for P.A.D.

Some conditions and habits raise your chance of developing P.A.D. Your risk increases if you:

  • Are over 50.
  • Smoke or used to smoke. Those who smoke or have a history of smoking have up to four times greater risk of developing P.A.D.
  • Have diabetes. One in every three people over the age of 50 with diabetes is likely to have P.A.D.
  • Have high blood pressure. Also called hypertension, high blood pressure raises the risk of developing plaque in the arteries.
  • Have high blood cholesterol. Excess cholesterol and fat in the blood contribute to the formation of plaque in the arteries, reducing or blocking blood flow to the heart, brain, or limbs.
  • Have a personal history of vascular disease, heart attack, or stroke. If you have heart disease, you have a one in three chance of also having P.A.D.
  • Are African American. African Americans are more than twice as likely to have P.A.D. as their white counterparts.

Summer 2009 Issue: Volume 4 Number 3 Pages 20 - 21