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Leg: PVD in the Iliac Arteries


Peripheral vascular disease (PVD) is caused by the build-up of fatty substances that collect and adhere to the linings of the arteries, in a process known as atherosclerosis.

You may also hear the terms “plaque,” “blockage,” “lesion,” or “stenosis.” As the plaque build-up continues, the internal lining of the artery thickens which causes the artery to narrow and limit blood flow to vital tissues and organs.

Some of the more commonly affected arteries are those which are located in the legs, arms, neck and kidneys. The symptoms you may experience from these blockages depend on what artery is affected and the severity of the blockage causing limited blood flow.

Some of the symptoms you may experience in the affected areas are:

  • Claudication (a dull, cramping pain in the hips, thighs, buttock or calf muscles)
  • Numbness/tingling in the leg, foot or toes
  • Changes in skin color (paleness or bluish color in leg, foot or toes)
  • Changes in skin temperature of leg, foot or toes
  • Ulceration or gangrene due to sores that have not healed
  • Uncontrolled high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Kidney damage (renal failure)

Risk Factors

You are at greatest risk for peripheral vascular disease if you:

  • Are diabetic
  • Are obese
  • Smoke
  • Have high blood pressure
  • Have a family history of PVD
  • Are inactive
  • Have coronary artery disease
  • Have high cholesterol

The Iliac Arteries

Arteries are vessels that carry blood away from the heart. The iliac arteries extend from the bottom of the aorta and then branch into smaller arteries carrying oxygen-rich blood to the pelvis and legs.

Iliac Artery Stenosis (Narrowing)

When atherosclerotic plaque builds up in the iliac arteries, they begin to narrow and restrict blood flow to the pelvis and legs. This is called iliac artery stenosis. Severe iliac artery stenosis can lead to complete blockage and loss of function.


Patients should be screened for iliac artery stenosis if they have:

  • Pain in legs with exertion or walking which is relieved with rest.
  • Diminished leg pulses or other abnormal sounds of blood flow heard through a stethoscope placed over the iliac arteries.
  • Slow wound healing on legs.

An iliac artery ultrasound may be performed if iliac artery disease is suspected. A soundwave test that produces an image of iliac arteries onto a screen. This test allows the size of the vessel to be measured and the flow of blood to the pelvis and legs to be tracked. This can be helpful in identifying narrowing in the iliac arteries. This test is painless and does not require the use of needles, dye or x-rays.