Diabetes and Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD)

Cross section of peripheral artery with plaque buildup.Diabetes is a condition in which your body has trouble using a sugar called glucose, for energy. As a result, the sugar level in your blood becomes too high. Diabetes is a chronic (lifelong) condition. It puts you at high risk for peripheral arterial disease (PAD). This is a disease of arteries in the legs. If you have PAD, arteries in other parts of your body are likely diseased, too. That puts you at high risk for other serious health problems. Read on to learn how diabetes can lead to PAD and affect your health.

How diabetes can lead to PAD

Diabetes can hurt your arteries. If diabetes is not controlled well, blood sugar levels will be high. High blood sugar can make the artery walls rough. A waxy substance in the blood called plaque can then build up on the artery walls. This plaque contains cholesterol. This makes it harder for blood to flow through your arteries. This limits blood flow to your arms and legs, which causes damage in the tissues. The feet are most at risk of tissue damage. If tissue damage is very bad, then toes, feet, or even legs may need to be removed (amputated). But blood sugar and cholesterol levels can be controlled. This is done with nutrition and exercise. Weight loss and medication may also help. And proper foot care is very important for people with PAD.

If diabetes is not controlled

Uncontrolled diabetes can cause many complications, including:

  • Heart disease

  • Stroke

  • Kidney damage or kidney failure (nephropathy)

  • Liver disease

  • Digestion problems

  • Nerve damage (neuropathy)

  • Eye damage (retinopathy)

  • Sexual dysfunction

  • Periodontal (gum) disease

  • Needing a toe, foot, or leg amputated (if you also have PAD)

If diabetes is controlled

Controlling diabetes can reduce your risk for serious health problems, including:

  • Heart disease and stroke

  • Kidney disease 

  • Eye disease 

  • Neuropathy 

  • With proper foot care, the need for amputation