Health Information

Lifestyle Changes to Manage Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)

Lifestyle changes can help decrease symptoms, slow progression and improve health of cardiovascular system. These changes can also reduce your risk of serious complications.

Quit Smoking

Quitting smoking is the most important step in restoring blood vessel health and reducing symptoms. Smoking can cause immediate and long-term problems in blood vessels. Smoking can cause blood vessels to spasm and also reduces the amount of oxygen available in your blood. Both of these factors reduce the amount of oxygen that is available in your legs and feet. Chemicals in tobacco smoke can also contribute to plaque buildup over time.

Discuss options to help you quit with your doctor. There are several tools including patches, therapies, and medication that may help. Remember that secondhand smoke is also harmful.

Exercise Regularly

Do not begin any exercise program without consulting your doctor.

Exercise can stimulate growth of new small blood vessels. These blood vessels can grow in areas with poor blood flow to increase blood flow to tissue that needs it, which may reduce PAD symptoms. Regular aerobic training can also help increase your physical abilities, quality of life, and help manage other factors that contribute to PAD such as high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure.

You may need to start with a supervised program that will help you improve mobility. Initial goals may be for you to get 30-45 minutes of walking at least 3 times per week. From there, you may be able to increase your frequency and intensity of activity based on your progress.

Reduce or Avoid Excess Weight

Excess weight is associated with increased risk of atherosclerosis, a leading cause of PAD. If you are struggling to lose weight, talk to your doctor about your options and what your ideal weight range may be. A dietitian can also help you with portion control and meal planning.

Manage Chronic Conditions

Control Blood Glucose Levels

Maintain Normal Blood Pressure

Identifying and Managing Depression

It is just as important to follow any treatment plans for other associated chronic conditions you may have. Keep in regular contact with your medical team to make sure you are on track and address any changes. Managing chronic conditions will help with your treatment of PAD. This includes:

High glucose levels in the blood can contribute to plaque buildup in the blood vessels. Over time, high blood glucose levels can also lead to damage of smaller blood vessels. Although diabetes is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular-related events, that risk can be decreased if blood glucose levels are well managed. Work with your health care team to learn how to best monitor and manage your blood glucose levels.

High blood pressure cause turbulent blood flow, which can damage blood vessels. Work with your medical team to monitor and manage your blood pressure. Management of high blood pressure may include weight management, salt reduction, exercise, and stress management. For some, medications may be needed.

People who are depressed are less likely to adhere to their treatment plans for other chronic conditions, and less likely to exercise. This contributes to an increased risk of complications associated with PAD.

Other Management

Foot Care

Daily inspection of your feet will help prevent serious complications that can lead to ulcers or amputation. To keep your feet healthy, take these steps:

  • Examine your feet daily for injuries, ingrown toenails, or cuts.
  • Care for any injuries of the feet meticulously with regular cleansing and dressings.
  • Avoid dry skin by using moisturizing creams.
  • Wear shoes that breathe, but do not expose the toes, such as sandals.
  • Get properly fitted for shoes.
  • Talk to your doctor or podiatrist about any toe or toenail problems. Make sure they know you have PAD.

Be an active participant in your care. Talk to your team about symptoms or treatments that you are having difficulty with.

Revision Information

  • Bondke Persson A, Buschmann EE, et al. Therapeutic arteriogenesis in peripheral arterial disease: combining intervention and passive training. Vasa. 2011;40(3):177-187.

  • Haas TL, Lloyd PG, et al. Exercise training and peripheral arterial disease. Compr Physiol. 2012;2(4):2933-3017.

  • Hills AJ, Shalhoub J, et al. Peripheral arterial disease. Br J Hosp Med (Lond). 2009;70(10):560-565.

  • How is peripheral arterial disease treated? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/pad/treatment.html. Updated June 2, 2014. Accessed June 23, 2014.

  • Living with peripheral arterial disease. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/pad/livingwith.html. Updated June 2, 2014. Accessed June 23, 2014.

  • Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) of lower extremities. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated June 13, 2014. Accessed June 23, 2014.

  • Prevention and treatment of PAD. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/More/PeripheralArteryDisease/Prevention-and-Treatment-of-PAD%5FUCM%5F301308%5FArticle.jsp. Updated February 26, 2014. Accessed June 23, 2014.