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Health Information Center

Risk Factors for Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:

Condition InDepth

Risk Factors for Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)

A risk factor is something that raises the chances of getting a health problem. A person can get PAD with or without the ones listed below. The chances of getting PAD are greater in people who have many. Things that can raise the risk are:

Factors That Can Be Changed


Smoking narrows and damages blood vessels. This lowers the amount of oxygen in the blood. Both of these things lower the amount of oxygen that is in the legs and feet. Chemicals in smoke can also lead to plaque buildup over time.

Long Term Health Problems

High Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a waxy matter used by the body. The body makes it and some also comes from the foods we eat. High levels of certain cholesterol in the blood can lead to atherosclerosis . This is the main cause of PAD.

High Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is the force of blood on the walls of arteries. It can cause too much stress and force on blood vessel walls when it is too high. Over time, this causes damage. It also raises the risk of PAD.


Diabetes happens when the body does not make insulin or does not use it well. Insulin is a hormone that helps pull sugar out of the blood and into cells for use. High levels of it can lead to atherosclerosis and blood vessel damage.

Factors That Cannot be Changed


As we age, more plaque builds up in blood vessels. The heart and blood vessels also have normal changes that can affect function, such as an increase in heart size, slower heart rate, and stiffer blood vessels and valves. These changes are often not enough to cause problems. But problems can happen when they combine with PAD.


Men have a higher risk of heart disease, but the risk in women rises sharply after menopause . Estrogen is thought to protect blood vessels before that time. The natural drop in estrogen after menopause can lower this protection and raise risk levels so that they are like those in men. Men tend to get PAD earlier than women because they do not have a lot of estrogen protecting them.


A person's genes may also play a role in their risk of PAD. The risk of getting PAD is higher in people who have a family history of PAD.


  • Peripheral artery disease (PAD). American Heart Association website. Available at: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/peripheral-artery-disease. Accessed March 24, 2022.
  • Peripheral artery disease (PAD). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/PAD.htm. Accessed March 24, 2022.
  • Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) of lower extremities. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/peripheral-artery-disease-pad-of-lower-extremities. Accessed March 24, 2022.
  • Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) of upper extremities. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/peripheral-artery-disease-pad-of-upper-extremities. Accessed March 24, 2022.


  • Daniel A. Ostrovsky, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.