Arm Artery Disease

Basic Facts

  • Arm Artery Disease (AAD), also called upper extremity arterial disease, is an uncommon type of peripheral artery disease. In this condition, one or more of the arteries that supplies blood to the arms and hands becomes blocked.
  • The disease may involve the large arteries of the arm or the smaller arteries of the forearm or hand.
  • In contrast to leg artery disease (which is caused primarily by atherosclerosis) AAD is caused by a number of other disorders.
  • With AAD, an artery between the chest and the hand typically becomes partially or completely blocked. It can be acute (meaning that it comes on quickly), or it can be chronic (meaning it progresses slowly over a long period of time).
  • In some patients, the disease reduces circulation to the hand but causes no symptoms. Other patients may experience skin ulcers or gangrene, because the extremity is lacking oxygen and nutrients.


The most common symptom is intermittent claudication (or discomfort, heaviness, tiredness, or cramping) in the affected arm, typically when it is being used. Other symptoms of AAD include:

  • Pain or discoloration
  • Sensitivity to the cold
  • Lack of a pulse
  • Muscle atrophy (wasting)
  • Pale, cool skin
  • Bluish, slow-growing nails
  • Slow-growing arm hair
  • Ulcers (sores)
  • Gangrene

Causes & Risk Factors

AAD has a number of causes, including:

  • Buerger’s disease (also known as thromboangiitis obliterans)
  • Takayasu’s disease (an autoimmune disease)
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon
  • Collagen vascular diseases
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Thoracic outlet syndrome
  • Thromboembolism (when a blood clot travels from one area of the body to another and blocks a blood vessel)
  • Frostbite
  • Hypothenar hammer syndrome
  • Radiation therapy for breast cancer

Primary risk factors include cigarette smoking, and being over the age of 60.


To diagnose AAD, a physician will begin by asking about the patient’s symptoms and family history of disease. The examination may include:

  • Measurement of blood pressure
  • Feeling for a pulse
  • Allen’s test
  • Listening to the arteries with a stethoscope
  • Duplex ultrasound
  • Arteriogram (also known as angiogram)
  • Segmental blood pressure
  • Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA)

Treatment Options

Treatments for AAD depend on the cause, location, and severity of the condition. Treatment options may include:

  • Cervical sympathetic blockade
  • Cervical sympathectomy
  • Surgical bypass

If a patient has an underlying condition (such as hypertension or diabetes), treating that condition may improve the symptoms related to AAD.

Preventive Lifestyle Changes

Although a number of treatments are available for AAD, there is no cure. Patients should address risk factors for the causes of the disease by making lifestyle changes that include quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet, and exercising.

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Medical Review Date: June 12, 2009 / Copyright © 2012 NorthPoint Domain, Inc. All rights reserved. This material cannot be reproduced in digital or printed form without the express consent of NorthPoint Domain, Inc. Unauthorized copying or distribution of NorthPoint Domain’s Content is an infringement of the copyright holder’s rights.