Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a condition in which blockages form in the blood vessels of your legs. These blockages share the same causes as blockages that form in the coronary arteries and can lead to heart attack and those that form in the carotid arteries in the neck, which can lead to stroke. A fatty substance called plaque builds up over time in the blood vessels and restricts the ability of blood to flow through a vessel.
According to a brochure from the National Institutes of Health, most people with PAD have no symptoms or their symptoms are unrecognized. Women are more likely than men to have a condition called intermittent claudication, in which blockages in the limbs cause muscle pain during activity but stops during rest.
Early identification of PAD can prevent serious complications, such as loss of the ability to walk or a need to amputate a foot or leg. Diagnosing PAD early can even save lives. It can help identify women at risk of heart attack or stroke. PAD can be diagnosed with a simple and painless test called the ankle-brachial index (ABI), in which blood pressure at the wrists is compared to that at the ankles. This potentially life saving test can be conducted by a primary care physician.