Complications of peripheral arterial disease 

The blockages in the arteries that cause peripheral arterial disease (PAD) can also lead to other serious problems, such as critical limb ischaemia (CLI).

Critical limb ischaemia

CLI occurs in cases of PAD where the blood flow to the legs becomes severely restricted. It's estimated that around one in every five people with symptoms of PAD will develop CLI at some point.

Symptoms of CLI include:

  • a severe burning pain in your legs and feet that continues even when you are resting
  • your skin turning pale, shiny, smooth and dry
  • wounds and ulcers (open sores) on your feet and legs that don't heal
  • loss of muscle mass in your legs
  • the skin on your toes or lower limbs becoming cold and numb, turning red and then black, and/or beginning to swell and produce foul-smelling pus, causing severe pain (gangrene

If you think you are developing symptoms of CLI, contact your GP immediately. If this is not possible, telephone NHS 111 or your local out-of-hours service

CLI is an extremely serious complication that can be challenging to treat.

An angioplasty or bypass graft (read about treating PAD for more information on these operations) will usually be recommended if you have CLI, although these may not always be successful or possible. In a few cases, an amputation below the knee may be required.

Increased risk of cardiovascular disease

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a general term that describes a condition affecting the heart or blood vessels. Along with PAD, there are a number of different forms of CVD  including coronary heart diseasestrokeheart attack and angina.

While PAD itself does not directly cause other forms of CVD, the condition is a sign that the blood vessels in your legs are in bad health.

The blockages in the arteries in the legs that cause PAD can also affect other areas of your body, such as the arteries supplying the heart and brain, which means that having the condition makes you more likely to develop another form of CVD.


Page last reviewed: 03/09/2014

Next review due: 03/09/2016