PAD occurs when plaque (cholesterol and other fats) builds up in the arteries that carry blood to the legs and arms (the extremities). When plaque develops in the extremities, there is a strong likelihood that it may also develop in the arteries which carry blood to the heart and brain. In the arms and legs, the lack of blood flow can cause pain, for instance leg pain while walking or climbing stairs. Lack of blood flow to the heart can cause a heart attack, while lack of blood flow to the brain can cause a stroke.

Because PAD is so closely related to heart disease, the vascular surgeons who treat PAD are directly linked to the cardiologists and cardiac surgeons in the Joel E. Smilow Heart Institute at Bridgeport Hospital. Treatment for PAD begins with making lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, exercising, lowering cholesterol and blood pressure levels and managing diabetes. There are also medications that can help. If the condition persists, PAD can be treated using minimally invasive procedures, such as angioplasty (a procedure in which a tiny balloon is used to open a blocked artery to improve blood flow), stenting (insertion of a tiny metal tube used to keep the artery open), atherectomy (cutting the blockage out) or with a laser. Traditional (bypass) surgery may be an option for patients who are not candidates for the minimally invasive techniques or with more advanced disease.