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Heart Center > Heart Healthy Blogs > When should I get help for leg pain?


When should I get help for leg pain?

Posted by: Todd Wood, MD on 4/4/2013 2:11:18 PM


The signs may be there—leg pain in the muscles when walking or climbing stairs that goes away with rest, sores on the legs that don’t heal, color changes in the skin on the feet. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, don’t ignore them. You could have peripheral arterial disease, a serious condition.


The signs may be there—leg pain in the muscles when walking or climbing stairs that goes away with rest, sores on the legs that don’t heal, color changes in the skin on the feet. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, don’t ignore them. You could have peripheral arterial disease, a serious condition.

What is it?
The process that causes fatty deposits in the arteries leading to your heart can do the same thing to almost every other artery in your body. The consequences of these blockages can be every bit as serious as a heart attack. In fact, these blockages put you more at risk for a heart attack or stroke because plaque in the leg arteries suggests a more aggressive degree of overall blockage.

What are the symptoms?
Peripheral arterial disease (P.A.D.) affects one in every 20 Americans over the age of 50, but it doesn’t always produce symptoms so you may not know you have it. When symptoms do develop, these are the most common ones:
  • Claudication, or fatigue, heaviness, tiredness, or cramping in your leg muscles (buttocks, thigh, or calf) that occurs during activity, such as walking or climbing stairs, and goes away once you stop the activity or rest.
  • Pain in the legs and/or feet that disturbs your sleep.
  • Sores or wounds on your toes, feet, or legs that heal slowly, poorly, or not at all.
  • Color changes in the skin of your feet, including paleness or blueness.
  • A lower temperature in one leg compared to the other leg.
How is P.A.D. treated?
There are three main approaches to treating P.A.D.

Lifestyle changes. Your health-care provider will recommend that you quit smoking if you do smoke; get your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood glucose levels into normal range; be more physically active; eat a healthy low-fat diet; and aim for a healthy weight.

Medication. Drugs to treat P.A.D. work to lower high blood pressure and cholesterol levels and treat diabetes; prevent blood clots from forming; and help reduce leg pain while walking or climbing stairs.

Special procedures/surgeries. For serious cases in which blood flow to one of your limbs is completely or almost shut off, you may benefit from a surgical procedure, such as angioplasty or bypass graft surgery. Note that these procedures will not cure P.A.D., but they can improve the blood circulation to your legs and your ability to walk.

Take a cue from a new national campaign to raise awareness of P.A.D, sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. “Stay in circulation.” Talk to your health-care provider if you think you’re at risk of P.A.D., have yourself checked, and learn what you can do to lower your risk. These simple choices can help you stay well.


Todd A. Wood, M.D., is an interventional cardiologist with extensive training in peripheral endovascular interventions and non-invasive technologies to diagnose heart disease. A physician with The Heart Group of Lancaster General Health, he is a co-investigator on several clinical studies related to cardiovascular disease and peripheral artery disease and has had published numerous articles on these subjects. Dr. Wood is board certified in internal medicine, cardiovascular disease, and interventional cardiology.




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