There’s a deadly disease attacking North Americans and three out of four people won’t even know they have it until they suffer a stroke or die. It’s called Peripheral Artery Disease or PAD. According to The Wall Street Journal, it’s when a dangerous amount of plaque builds up in the arteries in the legs, blocking blood from traveling to your head, organs, and limbs. That puts you at risk for heart attack, stroke, or death, and in some cases, it leads to infections like gangrene, which often results in leg amputation.

Dr. Alan Hirsch is president of the Vascular Disease Foundation in Colorado. He says that PAD is the most common and deadly cardiovascular disease that the public has never heard of. Why? Because sufferers and doctors often misdiagnose the telltale warning signs of leg pain and cramps as muscle aches or arthritis. Experts say that anyone from healthy young adults to senior citizens can develop it, but the greatest risk factor is smoking. In fact, if you have half a pack a day habit, it boosts your risk of developing PAD by 50%. So, what are the symptoms of PAD?

  • The big one: Shooting pain in your leg as soon as you start walking or climbing stairs, but as soon as you stop moving, the pain stops.
  • Another warning sign of PAD: Sores on your feet or legs that don’t heal.

If you have any of these symptoms, ask your doctor to test you for PAD ASAP. The earlier you start treatment, the better the results. You can also cut your risk of PAD with daily exercise and a heart-friendly diet filled with whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. If you’d like to go further, go to Heart.org.