Is Leg Pain A Sign Of A Heart Attack?

By Ben Loomis – DSC_9441.jpg, CC BY 2.0,

You certainly wouldn’t have missed the pain in your chest. But are you going to dismiss pain in your legs? Many people don’t know that it’s often important to pay attention to your legs when it comes to your cardiovascular system. A blockage in the leg can be as dangerous as a blockage in the heart.

Known as peripheral artery disease or PAD, the disorder is caused by blockages that occur when the arteries that carry blood to the legs are clogged with plaque, the same sticky mixture of calcium and cholesterol that can lead to blocked coronary arteries in the core.

The good news is that when diagnosed at an early stage, PAD can also be managed by lifestyle changes such as walking therapy and medication. Even better, you can reduce the chance of developing PAD by healthy behaviors.

More About Peripheral Artery Disease

People don’t usually think sore legs are linked to heart disease. But if the leg arteries are blocked, the coronary arteries are likely to be blocked as well. Untreated, PAD can potentially increase the risk of a person having a stroke or heart attack. It’s still the leading cause of limb amputation.

Early Symptoms

According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, PAD is estimated to affect one in 20 people over the age of 50 and one in five people over the age of 70.

While the initial symptoms may be mild, almost anyone with PAD discovers that they are unable to walk as far or as quickly as they did before due to tired, achy legs. PAD-associated leg pain is known as claudication.

Claudication is distinct from other forms of pain caused by arthritis or bone or muscle disorders. It normally follows a particular pattern, starting with pain in the calves or thighs as a person walks. It improves with rest, and then resumes while walking.

People often attribute this form of mild leg pain to getting older and slowing down, but claudication is an indication that narrowed arteries may reduce blood flow to the legs.

Other symptoms of decreased blood flow in the lower limbs include loss of leg hair and foot ulcers that do not heal. Inform your doctor if you have tiredness or cramping in your calf, thigh or hip while walking.

Preventing peripheral arterial disease

The advice to avoid or stop PAD when it is dangerous is essentially the same as the advice to prevent a heart attack or stroke: stop smoking, eat healthy, exercise more, monitor your blood sugar if you have diabetes, lose weight, and check your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. And ask your doctor whether you can take aspirin regularly to avoid clots or medications to reduce your blood pressure and cholesterol.

Even though PAD makes people’s legs hurt or feel exhausted when they walk or exercise a symptom that doctors call “claudication” that looks like a ‘Charlie horse’ style cramp, one of the best things to do is to walk more.

The more a patient walks, the more likely they are to establish a small ‘detour’ of blood vessels, called ‘collateral’ vessels, across the obstruction. The vast majority of people will grow these vessels that will relieve the pain.

But in some people, PAD has already gotten bad enough to cause discomfort or numbness even when a person sleeps something called “rest pain.” This pain also causes patients to get out of sleep. It most often happens in the foot ball and can feel like someone has wrapped a bandage around the foot. This level of symptoms is ominous because it suggests a more serious blockage without sufficient collateral.

Another symptom of extreme PAD is the appearance of painful sores or ulcers on the legs and toes. They occur because the supply of blood to the lower leg is not enough to feed the tissue and starts to disintegrate. People with diabetes, whose bodies have a particularly difficult time curing these ulcers, are most at risk. Untreated, skin ulcers can get worse and even turn into a gangrene that sometimes leads to amputation.

The vast majority of PAD cases are nowhere near that extreme. But people who don’t get help with symptoms when they get started may find their problems getting worse over time.

It is therefore recommended that anyone who has discomfort in their legs or legs, particularly new pain that lasts more than a week, should talk to the doctor. She or he can conduct a Doppler test, a painless, non-invasive ultrasound test that measures blood pressure in the extremity.

Are You Looking for Relief From Neck Pain?

Pace Physical Therapy in San Jose, California specializes in non-surgical neck pain relief and recovery therapies.  We pride ourselves on offering the best possible physical therapy available and going above and beyond for our patients. Our highly experienced physical therapist will work with you to improve your function and relieve your pain. We start by assessing the body as a whole. Oftentimes the cause of pain or an injury extends far beyond just the body part or muscle hurting. Without taking a comprehensive look at your entire self, we would be doing you a disservice in fully helping you heal and preventing future limitations. We then move on to fixing your areas of limitation.  Not all diagnoses are created equal. One person with neck pain may have completely different limitations than the next person. Your recovery program needs to be specific to what YOUR body needs and not just the typical exercise program that you can find online. Just because your pain decreases or you can walk longer doesn’t mean that it is enough to get you functioning at the level you want to be. While this often signifies the end of care at your typical PT clinic we don’t stop providing guidance until we help you successfully meet every goal you set for yourself with us on day one. Contact us today to schedule your appointment!