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Smoking and Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD)

Smoking is the greatest single danger to the health of your arteries. It puts you at higher risk for peripheral arterial disease (PAD). PAD is a disease of arteries in the legs. If you have PAD, it’s likely that other parts of the body are diseased, too. That puts you at high risk for heart attack or stroke. Read on to learn how smoking can lead to PAD and affect your health.

How can smoking lead to peripheral arterial disease?

Smoking causes inflammation that leads to plaque formation. Plaque is a waxy material made up of cholesterol and other particles that can build up in your artery walls. When there is too much plaque, your arteries can become narrowed and restrict blood flow. This then increases your risk for PAD and blood clots. It also worsens other risk factors, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. These are things that make you more likely to develop arterial disease.

What happens if you don’t quit smoking?

  • You have 2 to 4 times the risk for dying of a heart attack or stroke as a nonsmoker does.

  • You have an increased risk of developing severe PAD, claudication, gangrene, or needing to have a leg or foot amputated.

  • You have an increased risk of developing an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA). This is a bulge in the aorta, a major artery. It can rupture suddenly and be fatal.

What happens if you quit smoking?

  • Your risk for heart attack and stroke drops as soon as you quit smoking. After 1 year of not smoking, your risk for heart attack will fall by 50%. In 5 to 15 years after you quit, your risk for heart attack or stroke is similar to that of someone who never smoked.

  • Your risk for amputation and other complications of PAD is reduced.

  • Your risk of developing AAA decreases.


For more information


  • National Cancer Institute Smoking Quitline: 877-44U-QUIT (877-448-7848)



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