Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) Treatment

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a vascular condition that involves problems with the blood circulation in your limbs. “Peripheral” refers to your extremities, especially your lower legs and feet. When blood circulation in your limbs slows down, it can create severe health problems, including tissue death.

Unfortunately, South Carolina has one of the nation’s highest rates of lower extremity amputation (removal of a foot, toe or limb) from conditions like PAD. MUSC Health is working to change that. Our experts provide every available treatment for PAD, in addition to early screening, to help people save their limbs and regain their well-being.

What Is Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)?

In PAD, arteries get narrower when plaque builds up in the blood vessels (atherosclerosis). The buildup causes circulation problems that prevent your legs and feet from getting enough blood flow. PAD can develop in people who have:

  • Heart disease or cerebrovascular disease
  • Uncontrolled diabetes
  • Renal (kidney) failure
  • History of smoking or a current smoking habit
  • Severe injury or trauma to the limbs
  • Metabolic syndrome (a cluster of conditions that raise your risk of heart disease and diabetes)

The most common symptom of PAD is pain (claudication) in your legs, especially when you walk or climb stairs. If you notice this kind of pain, you should see a doctor right away.

Some people don’t notice symptoms at all, but PAD screening can spot problems early. Get information about peripheral artery disease screening at MUSC Health.

Why Choose MUSC Health for Peripheral Artery Disease Treatment?

When you come to MUSC Health for PAD treatment, you benefit from:

  • Comprehensive options: Our team uses all current minimally invasive (endovascular) and surgical techniques for PAD. Our team is skilled in reaching blockages with pedal access (through your foot). Learn more about our vascular services.
  • Collaborative team: PAD management requires care from several different specialties. Our vascular specialists work with you and your primary care provider to design a care plan for all of your needs. We stay in communication to manage conditions like diabetes and high cholesterol that can affect your vascular health. Meet our team.
  • Remote care statewide: People anywhere in South Carolina can benefit from our team’s expertise. Through our telehealth program, we can consult with you and your primary care doctor and discuss your options. MUSC Health is one of only two National Telehealth Centers of Excellence in the country. Read more about the MUSC Health Center for Telehealth.
  • Limb salvage: A severe form of PAD, called critical limb ischemia, results in wounds that won’t heal. Without adequate blood flow, tissue can die, leading to gangrene. Gangrene can be life-threatening and result in amputation. In MUSC Health’s Limb Salvage Clinic, our doctors work to avoid amputation.
  • Post-surgical support: After limb salvage surgery, some people go home, while others need rehabilitation care. Your doctor and a physical therapist help you arrange rehab, working with your insurance coverage. We also provide case managers and social workers to meet all of your needs after surgery.

Peripheral Artery Disease Treatment at MUSC Health

While using all available medical therapy is crucial, in some cases, people need surgical revascularization (increasing blood flow through blood vessels). MUSC Health offers comprehensive medical care and minimally invasive and surgical care for PAD, including:

Heart Health Support

Your doctor is likely to recommend lifestyle changes to slow PAD’s progression. It might help to change your diet or activity level. If you smoke, a stop-smoking program can help you quit. You may also need to take medications to reduce your blood pressure, lower your cholesterol or prevent blood clots. Learn about our Heart Health Program.

Supervised Exercise Therapy (SET)

For some people with PAD, a supervised exercise program can help control your symptoms. In our SET program, you can build your fitness with structured exercises that take into account the fact that walking can be painful with PAD.

Minimally Invasive Procedures

We provide several types of percutaneous interventions in our cardiac catheterization lab. These procedures can clear blocked or narrowed arteries and restore blood flow.

Your doctor inserts a thin tube (catheter) into your arteries through a tiny incision. Our doctors can insert the catheter through your groin, foot or ankle. MUSC Health uses the CorPath® GRX robot to assist doctors and provide a high level of precision in these procedures:

  • Balloon angioplasty: After inserting a catheter into the blocked artery, your doctor inflates a tiny balloon at the tip of the catheter. The balloon presses plaque against the artery walls to widen the artery. The balloon may be coated with medicine to prevent clots from forming.
  • Stenting: If arteries can’t stay open on their own after angioplasty, your doctor may place a tiny mesh tube (stent). The stent stays in the artery to hold it open. Drug-coated stents gradually release medicine to prevent clots.
  • Peripheral atherectomy: A catheter enables your doctor to destroy plaque that has built up in a blood vessel. Sometimes this procedure also includes putting a stent in the vessel.

Bypass Graft Surgery

Sometimes the plaque buildup completely blocks a long stretch of an artery. Your doctor can bypass the blockage by creating a new path for blood to flow to your leg or arm using a graft. They make the graft by removing a less important blood vessel (such as a vein) from somewhere else in your body. Learn more about vascular surgery.

Thrombolytic Therapy

If a blood clot is completely blocking an artery, your doctor might inject a drug into the clot to help dissolve it. Blood clots are dangerous because they can block blood flow to the heart, brain or limb, thereby causing a heart attack, stroke or limb ischemia. The location of the clot determines which team will treat you. The MUSC vascular team works closely with the internationally recognized team at MUSC Health’s Comprehensive Stroke Center.