When Leg Pain Cramps Your Style

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Everyone at one time or another has experienced achy legs. Whether it's after a long day running after kids, a tough pickup game with friends, or walking around the mall while holiday shopping. But, sometimes, achy legs can be a sign of something more serious: Peripheral Arterial Disease, or PAD.

PAD occurs when arteries in the legs become clogged with fatty deposits, thereby reducing blood flow. This common -- and dangerous -- vascular disease can lead to a heart attack, stroke, amputation, and even death. 17 million Americans have it.

Warning signs and symptoms of PAD include:

  • Painful muscle cramping in the hips, thighs, or calves when walking, climbing stairs or exercising - a pain that usually goes away when you stop the activity. The cramping occurs because your legs are not getting enough blood flow.
  • Changes in the color of your legs
  • Foot or toe wounds that won't heal
  • Gangrene or dead tissue on the feet
  • A weak pulse in your legs or feet
  • A decrease in the temperature of your lower legs
  • Poor toenail or lower leg hair growth

What are the risk factors for developing PAD?

  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • A family history of PAD, heart disease, or stroke

PAD symptoms are often overlooked, with people assuming they have arthritis, sciatica, stiffness, or a part of aging. A simple, painless screening test - an ankle-brachial index, which compares the blood pressure between your ankle and arm - is the easiest first step in identifying PAD.

Screenings Save Lives

Each year Deborah sponsors a free PAD screening event. Many people who have come through the program have been surprised at what they find.

Donna Canfield Kann, a 53-year-old mother of two, experienced excruciating pain when she walked. She went to her family doctor several times and was told she was out of shape. Donna, however, knew something was wrong. Last year she came to Deborah Heart and Lung Center's PAD screening event. Although she passed the test, the specialist who saw her knew something wasn't right. After additional assessment, Donna was diagnosed with a severe blockage in her abdominal aorta, requiring a stent to open the blockage and restore blood flow to the legs. Her symptoms were similar to PAD, but her situation was unique.

Donna's story offers some good advice: Don't assume your symptoms are "nothing." PAD is a very serious condition if left untreated, and similar symptoms can mask other serious problems.

For more information about PAD, or to register for Deborah's next free screening on Sept. 23, please visit www.demanddeborah.org or call 609-621-2080.