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What is an artery?

A healthy artery
An artery is a muscular tube. It has a smooth lining and flexible walls that allow blood to pass freely. When active, muscles need more oxygen, requiring increased blood flow. Healthy arteries can adapt to meet this need.

A damaged artery
Peripheral Arterial Disease begins when the lining of an artery is damaged. This is often due to a risk factor, such as smoking or diabetes. Plaque then starts to form within the artery wall. At this stage, blood flows normally, so you’re not likely to have symptoms.

A narrowed artery
If plaque continues to build up, the space inside the artery narrows. The artery walls become less able to expand. The artery still provides enough blood and oxygen to your muscles during rest. But when you’re active, the increased demand for blood can’t be met. As a result, your leg may cramp or ache when you walk.

A blocked artery
An artery can become blocked by plaque or by a blood clot lodged in a narrowed section. When this happens, oxygen can’t reach the muscle below the blockage. Then you may feel pain when lying down (rest pain). This type of pain is especially common at night when you’re lying flat. In time, the affected tissue can die. This can lead to the loss of a toe or foot.