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What People of Color Need to Know About Peripheral Artery Disease

What People of Color Need to Know About Peripheral Artery Disease

This article is for people of color who may be at risk for having peripheral artery disease (PAD), or anyone who wants to learn more about PAD. The goal of this patient education activity is to understand the impact of race/ethnicity on the risk of PAD.

You will learn:

  • What PAD is and who can get it

  • The impact of race/ethnicity on PAD

  • How PAD is treated

  • Questions to ask your doctor

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What Is PAD?

When you have PAD, it means that your legs -- and sometimes your arms -- are not getting enough blood and oxygen. PAD is caused by cholesterol buildup and narrowing of your blood vessels or a blood clot that blocks blood flow and oxygen.

This is why when you have PAD in your legs, you may have symptoms such as leg cramps, pain, or numbness. But some people with PAD do not experience any symptoms at all.

Who Can Get PAD?

Some risk factors, or things that can increase your chances for having PAD, include:

  • High blood pressure

  • High cholesterol

  • Diabetes

  • Kidney disease

  • Being over 40 years old

  • Race/ethnicity (such as Black or non-white Hispanic)

  • Being overweight or obese

  • Not being very physically active

  • Smoking

  • Family history of heart attack, stroke, or PAD

Can Race/Ethnicity Impact Your Risk of PAD?

People of color often have 1 or more risk factors for PAD. For example, studies have shown that Black and Latinx/Hispanic people have the highest rates of diabetes and high cholesterol, which can increase the risk of having PAD. In general, Black people over 40 years old are more likely to have PAD than people of other races, and it tends to be more severe.

Unfortunately, PAD frequently may not be diagnosed in people of color, so they may not be receiving the treatment they need.

It is important for you to have a discussion with your doctor about your risk factors and if you are experiencing any symptoms of PAD.

What Can Happen if PAD Is Not Treated?

PAD is a serious condition. If it's not treated and it continues to get worse, you may get complications, or additional problems, such as:

  • More difficulty with walking and doing daily activities

  • Slower healing of injuries, infections, or ulcers (sores)

  • A heart attack or stroke

  • Earlier death than someone who doesn't have PAD

Treating PAD includes having a healthy lifestyle, taking medicines, and, maybe, having a procedure.

A person with PAD and an open sore on their leg.

Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle With PAD

When you have PAD, it is important to keep a healthy lifestyle. This includes:

  • Stop smoking: Smoking is a big cause of PAD, so quitting is important

  • Take care of your feet: Wash, dry, and moisturize your feet every day. Wear comfortable shoes with socks

  • Exercise: If you can, walk at least 30 minutes outside or on a treadmill most days of the week

  • Have a healthy diet: Eat more fruits, vegetables, and grains

  • Take all medicines as directed: Keep taking medicines as directed for any health conditions you may have, such as high cholesterol or diabetes

Ask your doctor about ways to help stay healthy that may be right for you.

Procedures for PAD

Some people with PAD need a procedure to help improve blood flow to their legs. These can include:

  • Balloon angioplasty: A small balloon is inflated inside a blocked blood vessel to open it up

  • Stent placement: A thin mesh tube or "stent" is placed inside a blood vessel to keep it open. This is done at the same time as angioplasty

  • Bypass surgery: This major surgery connects blood vessels from another part of the body to blood vessels around the blockage in your leg

  • Amputation: This major surgery sometimes may be needed to remove a damaged part of the leg

A stent helps to open up a blood vessel to improve blood flow.

Medicines Used to Help Treat PAD

Your doctor may also recommend medicines that can help prevent blood clots, such as:

  • Antiplatelet medicines to stop blood clots from forming in blood vessels, such as aspirin or clopidogrel

  • Anticoagulant medicines to help to slow down your body's process of making blood clots and to stop a clot from forming in a blood vessel, such as rivaroxaban taken with aspirin

Possible Side Effects of Antiplatelet and Anticoagulant Medicines

All medicines can have side effects. Minor bleeding can sometimes happen if you're taking an antiplatelet or anticoagulant medicine. Serious side effects may also happen, but they are not very common.

You should call your doctor if you have:

  • Bruising, pain, swelling, or discomfort

  • Bleeding for a long time from cuts, shaving, or the gums

  • Nosebleeds that are uncommon or don't stop

  • Blood in vomit or urine, or when you cough

  • Severe headache, dizziness, fainting, or feeling tired

  • Trouble breathing

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

At your next visit, you can ask your doctor these questions about PAD:

  • Am I at risk for PAD, and what is the impact of race/ethnicity on my risk?

  • What treatments are available, and what are their side effects?

  • When should I get emergency help for PAD symptoms or treatment side effects?

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You have successfully completed the program What People of Color Need to Know About Peripheral Artery Disease.

View Additional Materials on this topic that you may find useful:

Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)

Peripheral Artery Disease

Authors and Disclosures

Clinician Reviewer

Anita A. Galdieri, PharmD, RPh

Associate Director, Content Development, Medscape, LLC.

Disclosure: Anita A. Galdieri, PharmD, RPh, has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.


Asha P. Gupta, PharmD, RPh

Associate Medical Education Director, Medscape, LLC.

Disclosure: Asha P. Gupta, PharmD, RPh, has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.


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