Your Leg Pain Might Be Something Serious — Peripheral Arterial Disease

By Thomas Truong, DO

Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is a very common condition affecting more than 7 million Americans, including one in three over age 70, according to the American Heart Association. These people have four to five times the risk for heart disease and stroke and are likely to go undiagnosed.

PAD develops most commonly as a result of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), which occurs when cholesterol and scar tissue build up, forming a substance called plaque inside the arteries that narrows and clogs arteries. The clogged arteries cause decreased blood flow to the legs, which can result in pain when walking, and eventually gangrene and amputation. People with PAD are at increased risk for heart disease, aortic aneurysm and stroke. PAD is also a marker for diabetes, hypertension, and other conditions.

If you have troublesome leg pain, make a note of it and discuss it with your physician on your next visit. It could be more than arthritis or another sign of aging; it might indicate PAD.

You are more at risk of developing PAD if you:

  • Have cardiovascular (heart) problems such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart attack or stroke
  • Have diabetes
  • Have a family history of diabetes or cardiovascular problems
  • Have ever had a blood clot or “DVT”
  • Have aching, cramping or pain in your legs or hips when you walk or exercise, but then it goes away when you rest
  • Have pain or discoloration in your hands, toes or feet at night. This may include tingling, numbness or coldness.
  • Have any ulcers or sores on your feet or legs that are slow in healing
  • Smoke or have ever smoked
  • Are more than 25 pounds overweight
  • Experience impotence
  • Are over age 50
  • Have irregular growth of fingernails or toenails
  • Have acute swelling in your legs
  • Have a history of vascular disease such as blood vessel calcification or plaque

Fortunately you can help prevent this disease through some lifestyle changes.

Quit smoking.
Smokers have a higher risk for PAD and a higher risk for heart disease and stroke if they already have PAD.

Maintain a healthy weight.
Aim for a body mass index (BMI) of 24 or less to avoid developing PAD, diabetes, high blood pressure and other serious health conditions.

Get moving.
Talk to your physician about exercise programs that may help protect your heart and reduce PAD symptoms.

Control your blood pressure and cholesterol with your physician’s guidance.

You can help avoid this apparently minor but truly serious health problem by paying attention to your symptoms and talking with your physician.

Learn more about the Heart and Vascular Institute at Northern Nevada Medical Center.