For older adults, leg pain is easy to dismiss as routine aches and pains or arthritis. While that may be the case in certain situations, recurring leg pain is not something that should be ignored, as it could be a sign of a more serious condition called peripheral arterial disease. This condition, caused by arterial blocks that reduce and restrict blood flow to the legs and feet, can cause cramping, numbness and pain during everyday activities like walking or climbing up the stairs.
“The leg pain associated with PAD usually subsides after you’ve rested, so some people are willing to chalk that pain up to age,” explains Sean Janzer, MD, cardiologist at Bryn Mawr Hospital. “But paying attention to that pain and responding to it is just as important as responding to chest pains or dizziness would be.”
Additional symptoms associated with PAD are redness in your foot when you sit or stand, sores on your feet, toes or legs that heal slowly or not at all and the skin on your legs turning pale or bluish when they are elevated. Although these symptoms can present in addition to leg pain, don’t wait to see them before you talk to a physician.
If left untreated, not only can the blockages that cause PAD go undiscovered, but additional, more dangerous blockages, as well. Once you have been identified as having PAD, your physician is more likely to identify other blockages that could become a problem as well, including ones that reduce blood flow to your brain and heart.
“Heart attack and stroke can both be caused by blocked arteries, the same thing that causes PAD. By treating one condition and identifying those blockages, you’re preventing something worse from happening,” explains Dr. Janzer.
Although PAD can happen to anyone, it typically occurs in patients who are over age 70 or patients who are over age 50 with a history of smoking or diabetes. It’s rare for patients younger than 50 to have PAD, but if you have diabetes or other risk factors, you might be at risk.
What risk factors put you at an increased chance for PAD? The single most important risk factor to take note of is tobacco use.
“Tobacco users are four times more likely to be affected by PAD. Quitting smoking is the best thing you can do to prevent yourself from getting it,” says Dr. Janzer.
In addition, maintaining a healthy diet and controlling your blood pressure, cholesterol levels and diabetes can all help reduce your risk for getting PAD, or for relieving its symptoms once you have been diagnosed. Eating well and exercising 30 minutes per day will help to alleviate the plaque buildup in your arteries that causes PAD to occur.
These lifestyle factors should prevent PAD, and help to treat it after your diagnosis. However, for more rare but serious cases, surgery might be the solution. Your doctor can help you determine what the right treatment is for you.
Paying attention to leg pain could save your life; don’t ignore it. If you’ve been suffering from leg pain or cramping and you think you might have PAD, make an appointment with a Main Line Health physician in your area today.