Diabetes is a risk factor for developing peripheral vascular disease (PVD). Symptoms include painful muscle cramping, slow-healing wounds, and more. Treatments and prevention steps can help prevent PVD.

PVD can cause pain in the legs and slow-healing wounds. It can also increase a person’s stroke or heart attack risk.

This article discusses the connection between diabetes and PVD and other risk factors. It also looks at symptoms of PVD, treatments, and prevention steps.

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A person living with diabetes has a high risk of developing atherosclerosis, which can increase the risk of PVD.

Atherosclerosis is the medical term for a buildup of plaque deposits in the arteries, which consist of cholesterol, fatty substances, cellular waste, and other material.

As the plaque accumulates, the arteries harden and become thicker. This reduces blood flow and prevents oxygenated blood from reaching areas of the body.

Atherosclerosis is a leading cause of peripheral artery disease (PAD), a type of PVD affecting the arteries. The condition often affects the arteries in the legs and arms. It can also affect arteries in other parts of the body.

Learn more about atherosclerosis.

Diabetes puts a person at a higher risk of developing PVD. Other risk factors include:

Learn what causes high cholesterol.

PVD can cause several symptoms. One of the most common symptoms affecting the lower extremities is painful muscle cramping when moving around. This can happen in the:

  • thighs
  • calves
  • hips

The discomfort may go away once a person stops exercising or moving. However, this may not always be the case.

The pain occurs when blocked arteries reduce the blood flow to the muscles.

In addition to pain in the lower extremities, a person may also experience:

Some people may not experience any symptoms.

Learn more about the symptoms of PVD.

Experts recommend lifestyle changes, medications, and exercise for treating PVD.

Lifestyle changes

Some lifestyle changes that may help include:


A doctor may prescribe different medications to help keep blood flowing. Some options include:

Other treatments

If these steps do not work, a doctor may recommend:

  • angioplasty or stent placement, which are procedures that can help to restore blood flow
  • bypass surgery, which uses a vein from another part of the body to restore blood flow
  • atherectomy, which is a minimally invasive procedure to remove cholesterol from arteries

Early treatment may lead to better outcomes, so a person should consider speaking with a doctor if symptoms indicate they may have PVD.

Learn more about vascular diseases here.

A person can take steps to help prevent PVD. The American Heart Association recommends people with diabetes take the following steps:

  • consuming a balanced diet that focuses on:
  • staying physically active and getting enough regular exercise or physical activity
  • following directions for managing diabetes as recommended by a doctor
  • quitting smoking if the person currently smokes

Learn why smoking is bad for you.

A person should contact a doctor if they develop any signs or symptoms that could indicate PVD, particularly if they have diabetes or other risk factors.

The doctor will be able to confirm the diagnosis by taking a full medical history, performing a physical examination, and ordering various tests, including:

  • the ankle-brachial index (ABI) test, which involves comparing the blood pressure in the arm and the ankle
  • blood tests
  • walking and other exercise tests
  • Doppler ultrasound to measure blood flow
  • imaging tests

Learn more about poor circulation here.

Diabetes can increase the risk of developing PVD. Diabetes can lead to atherosclerosis, which in turn can cause PVD. Symptoms can include leg pain and slow-healing wounds.

Treatment and prevention typically involve medication and lifestyle changes, including diet and physical activity.

Doctors may also recommend medical procedures to help restore blood flow and prevent further damage or complications.