Most people don’t realize that leg cramps could be related to heart problems, but it’s true. Around 6.5 million people over the age of 40 in the United States have a condition called peripheral arterial disease (PAD), which affects the blood vessels in their legs.
At Heart & Vascular Institute, our providers talk to patients often who have no idea the discomfort they’re feeling in their legs could be a sign of a serious cardiovascular issue.
In this post we discuss the signs and symptoms of PAD, as well as what you should do if you notice any of them.
Blood vessels in your legs
Just as the blood vessels near your heart can become stiffened and narrow, so can those in your legs. When the blood vessels in your legs aren’t working properly, a couple of things happen.
Narrow vessels can’t deliver enough blood to muscles that are working hard. So, if you get cramps in your calves when you’re walking or climbing stairs, it could be due to damaged or clogged blood vessels. This is called claudication, and it could indicate cardiovascular disease.
Another issue you may notice is swelling. When your blood vessels aren’t working properly, blood can pool and cause swelling. If your lower legs or ankles swell when you stand, it could be a vascular issue.
The heart connection
It’s a pretty good bet that if the arteries in your legs are narrowed then other arteries in your body are, as well, including those in your heart. In fact, the risk factors for PAD are the same as those for heart disease: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, smoking, and diabetes.
The good news
When PAD is caught early, there are effective treatments, many of which involve achievable lifestyle changes — quitting smoking, managing your weight, and beginning a walking program.
Walking is one of the best ways to improve circulation and build new blood vessels. So, even though it may be the last thing you want to do, walking is one of the best things you can do.
Medications to treat hypertension and diabetes may also help improve your cardiovascular health.
Don’t ignore leg pain
Claudication may seem like an annoyance. Some people don’t even notice it, or they may think it’s simply a result of “overdoing it.” However, if you have recurrent pain in your legs, it’s worth talking to your doctor to make sure it’s not a sign of PAD.
If you’re experiencing leg pain, schedule an appointment at Heart & Vascular Institute, with locations in Dearborn, Detroit, and Southfield, Michigan. We can evaluate your situation and determine whether your leg pain could be related to your heart.