Arm artery disease is a type of peripheral artery disease. It is a circulatory disorder in which the arteries in the arm become narrow or blocked, unable to carry oxygen-rich blood into the arms. Arm artery disease is usually caused by atherosclerosis. Risk factors that contribute to arm artery disease are:

  • Tobacco use
  • Obesity
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • High blood cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Family history of heart disease
  • High-saturated fat diet
  • Genetic factors

Many of these risk factors can be reduced or eliminated by changing your lifestyle.


If you have arm artery disease, you may experience these symptoms in your arm:

  • Intermittent claudication (discomfort or pain that occurs when exercising)
  • Tightness
  • Numbness
  • Cramping
  • Heaviness or weakness
  • Muscle atrophy (wasting)

The pain may stop when you rest. As the disease develops, you may experience cool, pale or reddish-blue skin. You may be unable to find a pulse in your wrist or notice that one arm is colder than the other arm. These symptoms are caused by the narrowed arteries' inability to supply necessary oxygen to the muscles.

Arm artery disease can progress slowly and remain undiagnosed. If you have these symptoms, be sure to inform your physician. This condition can lead to increased risk of amputation, heart attack and stroke.


Your physician will take blood pressure and temperature in both your arms. He or she will use a stethoscope to listen for a bruit (abnormal whooshing sound). Arm artery disease can be diagnosed with tests including:

  • Angiogram – An X-ray of blood vessels to identify blockage; it is performed by inserting a tube into an artery in the leg and injecting a contrast dye into the artery
  • CT scan (computed tomography scan) – An imaging procedure that uses X-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional, detailed images of the body, including bones, muscles, fat and organs
  • Duplex ultrasound – A painless, noninvasive test that shows how blood is moving through your arteries and veins. It examines the structure of your blood vessels and indicates if there are any blockages within your arteries.
  • MRA (magnetic resonance angiography) – A noninvasive imaging procedure that uses large magnets, radiofrequencies and a computer to evaluate blood flow through arteries
  • Segmental blood pressure measurements – A means of comparing blood pressure measurements using a Doppler device in the upper thigh, above and below the knee, at the ankle and on the arm


Arm artery disease treatments control the symptoms and stop the progression of the disease. An anesthetic injection (sympathetic block) can relieve symptoms by blocking specific nerves in the hand. Cervical sympathectomy treatments can stop artery spasms with nerve interference. Depending on the underlying cause and blockage, your physician will work with you to manage your condition.


You may be prescribed medications to lower blood sugar, blood pressure and blood cholesterol. Other medications may be given to improve blood flow and relax blood vessel walls. Your physician will tailor the best medications for your underlying cause and condition.

Nonsurgical procedures

It is possible to positively affect your artery condition with a few lifestyle changes. First, quit smoking. Tobacco not only damages your arteries but also increases complications. To slow atherosclerosis, strive for a healthy weight. A low-fat and high-fiber diet will help your arteries become healthier. Introduce walking a few times a week into your routine for at least 30 minutes.

Surgical procedures

If necessary, several surgical procedures may relieve the symptoms. With angioplasty, your physician will have two options via catheter. He or she may inflate and deflate a special balloon to break up the plaque or insert a permanent stent to hold open the artery. For advanced arm arterial disease, your physician may perform a bypass (create an alternative arterial path) or endarterectomy (surgically remove plaque).  

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