Causes and Risk Factors of Peripheral Artery Disease and Deep Vein Thrombosis

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: March 2024

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) and deep vein thrombosis (DVT) are vascular conditions that often fly under the radar but can have serious consequences. PAD and DVT involve different processes in the body, but they share several causes and risk factors.1

How peripheral artery disease affects the body

PAD occurs when there is a buildup of fatty deposits (plaque) in the arteries, usually in the legs. This buildup narrows the arteries, restricting blood flow to the body’s limbs. As a result, the affected areas do not receive enough oxygen and nutrients. This leads to symptoms such as pain, cramping, and weakness in the legs during physical activity.1-3

Causes of peripheral artery disease

The primary cause of PAD is a condition called atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is when plaque collects on the artery walls, narrowing the blood vessels.2

Other, less common causes of PAD include:3

  • Inflammation in the blood vessels
  • Injury to the arms or legs
  • Changes to muscles or ligaments
  • Exposure to radiation

Risk factors for peripheral artery disease

Several risk factors can contribute to the development of PAD:2,3

  • Smoking – Tobacco smoke damages blood vessels, which can speed up the progression of atherosclerosis.
  • Diabetes – Uncontrolled diabetes increases the risk of PAD. This is because elevated blood sugar levels can damage blood vessels.
  • High blood pressure (hypertension) – High blood pressure damages arteries, making it a big risk factor for vascular diseases like PAD.
  • Family history of PAD
  • High cholesterol
  • Older age
  • Obesity

How to prevent peripheral artery disease

Preventing PAD entails practicing healthy lifestyle habits. This includes doing things like:1-3

  • Getting regular exercise
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Managing blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Not smoking

How deep vein thrombosis affects the body

DVT occurs when blood clots form in the deep veins, most often in the legs. Symptoms of DVT may include swelling, pain, discoloration, and/or warmth in the affected leg. Sometimes, there are no noticeable symptoms of DVT.4,5

If a clot breaks loose, it can travel to the lungs and get stuck in an artery there. This is called a pulmonary embolism (PE), and it is life-threatening.4,5

Causes of deep vein thrombosis

The cause of DVT is usually 1 of the following:4,5

  • Immobility – Long periods of sitting or not moving, such as during long flights or bed rest after surgery, can lead to clots forming.
  • Injury to veins – Any trauma that damages veins can lead to clotting. Damage can result from an injury, an infection, or surgery.

Risk factors for deep vein thrombosis

Your chances of developing DVT are higher if you:4,5

  • Are over the age of 60 (though DVT can occur at any age)
  • Have a family history of DVT or blood clotting disorders
  • Are overweight, as excess weight can put added pressure on veins
  • Are pregnant, since pregnancy increases the pressure on veins in the pelvis and legs
  • Are taking birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy
  • Currently smoke

The following medical conditions can also increase your risk for DVT:4,5

Sometimes, DVT can occur with no known cause. Talk to your doctor if you are concerned about your risk for DVT.4,5

How to prevent deep vein thrombosis

There are several things you can do to help prevent DVT, such as:4,5

  • Move around. This is a vital aspect of preventing DVT, especially during long periods of sitting or lying down. If possible, get up and move often to prevent clots from forming. Even flexing your calves and stretching your legs can help increase blood flow.
  • Wear compression socks. These can help improve blood flow and reduce the risk of clotting.
  • Don’t smoke. Smoking increases the risk of many health problems, including blood clots.
  • Stay well hydrated. Dehydration can contribute to blood clots.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Since obesity is a risk factor for DVT, maintaining a healthy weight can help protect you from DVT. If you need to lose weight, talk with your doctor about a sustainable weight loss plan.

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.