Why you shouldn't ignore achy legs
Don't dismiss leg pain as a normal part of aging. If you have these symptoms, you may have PAD.
If your legs occasionally ache, it could just be that your muscles are tired from a strenuous workout. But if that pain persists, it may be time to talk to your doctor. Chronic leg pain is a primary symptom of peripheral artery disease (PAD), a common and treatable condition in which narrowed arteries reduce blood flow to your limbs and can threaten your heart.
The American Heart Association estimates that about 8 million people have PAD, which is caused by atherosclerosis, the build-up of a fatty substance in the peripheral arteries. The condition most frequently affects the arteries that supply blood to the legs and can often be controlled or reversed. That’s why it’s important that you don’t ignore leg pain that doesn’t go away.
Symptoms of PAD include:
- Cramping in the hips, thighs or calves when walking or exercising that goes away with rest. Pain occurs in the muscles, not in the joints.
- Leg pain that continues even while at rest. This is a sign of advanced PAD.
- Numbness, tingling and cold feet, especially in bed.
- Wounds on the feet or toes that don’t heal or heal very slowly.
- Redness or color changes of the skin, or skin that feels cool.
Some people have almost no symptoms or attribute pain to normal aging or diabetic neuropathy. That’s why PAD often goes undiagnosed, which can be dangerous. Untreated peripheral artery disease can lead to severe leg pain, serious tissue damage or even amputation. People with PAD are also at an increased risk of coronary artery disease, heart attack and stroke.
Once diagnosed, doctors will recommend heart-healthy lifestyle changes, such as improving your diet, increasing your physical activity and quitting smoking. If PAD persists, you may be prescribed medication. For severe peripheral artery disease, your doctor may also recommend endovascular treatments that are similar to those used to treat heart disease.