Harvard Heart Letter

Clogged arteries in the legs? It may run in the family

If one of your parents or siblings has peripheral artery disease (PAD), you're nearly twice as likely to get this painful leg condition than a person with no family history of the disease. That's according to a study in the Sept. 15, 2014, American Journal of Cardiology that included nearly 6,700 adults, one-third of whom were diagnosed with PAD. The increased familial risk for PAD held true even after researchers adjusted for other factors that make PAD more likely, such as smoking and a poor diet. And the risk of PAD rose along with the number of affected relatives a person had. The classic sign of PAD is calf or thigh pain while walking—the result of cholesterol-laden deposits in the arteries of the legs.

If PAD runs in your family and you notice leg pain when you walk, ask your doctor about testing, which involves simple, noninvasive blood pressure and blood flow tests in your thighs and ankles. If testing reveals a blockage, a walking regimen and medications are the first-line treatment. More serious cases may require artery-opening angioplasty and stenting or surgery.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »