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What Your Leg Pain Might Be Telling You

Leg pain can be a normal result of standing at your job, aging, or overdoing your workout. Or, it can be a symptom of cardiovascular disease. It can be surprisingly difficult to tell why your legs hurt, so it’s a good idea to have an evaluation by an expert. 

The physicians at Heart & Vascular Institute are experts who can help patients understand the difference between normal leg pain and pain that may be related to an underlying condition. If you’re experiencing leg pain, particularly if you’re 50 or older, schedule an appointment today. 

Circulation and leg pain

Your legs are distant from your heart, yet when you walk, your legs, especially your calf muscles, need blood to work hard. If your legs hurt when you walk, it could be due to poor circulation. 

Your age, lifestyle, and genetics all play a role in a substance called plaque building up in your arteries. Plaque both narrows your blood vessels and makes them less flexible, making it more difficult for your blood to flow to where it’s needed. 

If you have plaque buildup in your blood vessels, you may feel pain in your calves when they need blood quickly. That pain is called claudication, and claudication is a symptom of peripheral artery disease, or PAD. 

Some people describe claudication as an ache; others say it’s excruciating. The variability in how people experience the pain of claudication can make it difficult to recognize. 

The progression of PAD

Early on, if you have PAD, you’re likely to only notice the pain in your legs when you’re active — walking, climbing stairs, etc. It probably clears up as soon as you rest. As your blood vessels continue to become more clogged, you may begin to feel pain at other times. 

In more severe cases, you may wake up with pain in your legs during the night that eases when you stand up or walk around. Other symptoms you may notice include less hair growth on your legs, color changes on the skin of your feet, or wounds on your feet that heal slowly or not at all. 

The heart connection

There’s a high likelihood that if the arteries in your legs are blocked by plaque, arteries in other parts of your body are too. The plaque that causes PAD is exactly the same substance that causes heart disease. 

Your leg pain could well be a symptom of cardiovascular disease that puts you at risk of having a heart attack. 

What you can do 

First, if you’ve noticed leg pain and you’re not sure why, schedule an appointment with us. We can perform tests to find out if you have PAD and, if so, how severe it is. 

Early stages of PAD can often be treated with medication and lifestyle changes. For example, quitting smoking is often an important first step in slowing the progression of PAD. Other interventions include walking therapy and medications.

In more severe cases, surgery may be the best option. 

Without treatment, PAD can lead to infection or even tissue loss, and of course, your risk of a heart attack is higher. 

Don’t assume your leg pain is simply a fact of getting older or working hard. Schedule an appointment at a Heart & Vascular Institute location in Dearborn, Detroit, or Southfield, Michigan, so we can diagnose what’s causing your leg pain and provide, if needed, effective treatment. 

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