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Leg Pain and Aching: Peripheral Artery Disease Could Be the Cause

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a common, yet serious, health condition. PAD can cause a range of symptoms, including leg pain, cramping, weakness, and fatigue. It is also a progressive disease: when left untreated, it can place you at risk for heart attack, stroke, and limb amputation. 

PAD leg pain presents differently for everyone. Some patients report aching or sore legs, while others suffer from lower leg pain or throbbing pain in their legs. We want you to know that the most common PAD symptom is claudication: muscle pain or weakness that begins with physical activity, such as walking, and stops within minutes after resting. 

However, PAD can also cause aching legs at night, indicating that the disease has progressed to a more severe condition.

To accurately determine the underlying cause of your leg pain, we recommend visiting your doctor or a vascular specialist. At USA Vascular Centers, we specialize in diagnosing, treating, and the ongoing care of peripheral artery disease.

How Does PAD Cause Leg Pain?

Peripheral artery disease can develop when plaque builds up in the arteries that lead to your legs. This type of plaque buildup, known as atherosclerosis, causes the arteries to narrow or, in severe cases, become completely blocked. 

As a result, your legs and feet receive an inadequate supply of blood and oxygen. Insufficient blood flow to the legs can lead to life-altering symptoms like leg pain and cramping, non-healing wounds that leave you susceptible to infection, and erectile dysfunction. 

It is important to understand that lifestyle factors such as obesity, inactivity, poor diet, and smoking can contribute to the development and progression of PAD. Fortunately, our trusted vascular doctors can help identify your risk factors and guide you toward better vascular health.

We want you to know that PAD treatment is available that can help alleviate symptoms and reduce your risk of developing dangerous complications. Your vascular doctor may recommend lifestyle modifications, prescribe medications, or recommend a medical procedure to improve your quality of life.


Diagnosing Peripheral Artery Disease

If you suffer from leg pain, we recommend contacting your doctor or one of our highly experienced vascular doctors for a complete medical evaluation. They can order medical tests to accurately determine whether PAD or a different health condition causes your aching legs.

Most commonly, peripheral artery disease is diagnosed with an ankle-brachial index (ABI). An ABI is a minimally invasive test that takes only a few minutes to perform. During the test, your medical professional uses a regular blood pressure cuff and a specialized ultrasound device to compare the blood pressure in your ankle with that of your arm. The difference between the twocan indicate whether enough blood is reaching your legs. 

Does Everyone With PAD Experience Pain in the Legs? 

While leg pain is one of the most common symptoms of PAD, not everyone with PAD experiences aching legs. The CDC estimates that about 6.5 million Americans over the age of 40 are living with PAD. Of those, four in ten do not experience leg pain. 

This information comes with a caveat, however. One study found that in patients who reportedly did not experience leg pain, one-third developed intermittent claudication (cramping) during a six-minute walking test.1 These patients most likely restricted their physical activity to avoid discomfort. Other PAD patients who report feeling no leg pain may have mild PAD, meaning that blood flow is sufficient to supply oxygenated blood to the legs — for the time being. 

As PAD progresses and the plaque in the arteries builds up, the passageways will narrow, making leg pain more likely. However, the study also measured calf muscle size, fat, and muscle density. The researchers found that individuals with PAD who were always asymptomatic, even during a six-minute walking test, had smaller calf muscles, more fat in the calves, and poor lower extremity nerve function.2

The bottom line is that if you have any of the risk factors for PAD, such as a smoking habit, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, advanced age, or obesity, it’s prudent to undergo a PAD screening even if you don’t experience aching legs.

On the other hand, not all achiness in the legs is a sign of PAD. If you do not have any PAD risk factors, talk to your doctor about leg pain causes affecting you.

How To Treat Pain and Aching in the Legs Caused by PAD

The good news is that peripheral artery disease leg pain can be treated. At USA Vascular Centers, we offer a range of minimally invasive, outpatient PAD treatments that include angioplasty, stent placement, and atherectomy. We can also help identify beneficial lifestyle changes and prescribe medications intended to encourage blood flow to your legs. 

Our primary treatment goals are to alleviate painful symptoms, reduce your risks of heart attack, stroke, and limb amputation, and improve your quality of life. We believe in developing a personalized treatment plan for each of our patients for the best health outcomes. 

When you visit USA Vascular Centers, you will soon discover that our leading doctors are experienced, highly skilled, and compassionate. 

When Should I See a Doctor for My Leg Pain?

We encourage you to seek out a vascular doctor as soon as you notice leg pain. You may feel that you don’t need to see a doctor if you only experience leg pain during exercise, but keep in mind that aching legs during exercise are one of the classic symptoms of PAD. 

If your legs hurt all the time, including while you are lying down, and the pain is only relieved when you dangle your legs off the edge of the bed, see a doctor right away. You may have advanced PAD. Without treatment, you can develop a blockage in the arteries that allows little to no blood through to your lower extremities, a condition known as critical limb ischemia.

When you have critical limb ischemia, PAD may have progressed to the point that you develop non-healing wounds or ulcers, which can cause extra peripheral artery disease leg pain. Patients with diabetes may not notice the pain due to nerve damage in the feet and legs (peripheral neuropathy).

If you have peripheral neuropathy caused by diabetes, check your legs regularly for sores or wounds that take longer than three weeks to heal. Critical limb ischemia can lead to tissue and limb death, leading to an amputation, which is why it’s crucial to see a doctor right away if your leg pain is constant.

If you develop sudden leg pain, warmth in the leg, or swelling, seek emergency care right away. These can be symptoms of a blood clot deep in the vascular system of the legs (deep vein thrombosis) and can be fatal if left untreated. 

Schedule a Consultation With USA Vascular Today

At USA Vascular Centers, our vascular doctors are available to help alleviate your leg pain and other PAD symptoms. Our treatments can help you regain mobility and may enable you to return to some of your normal daily activities.

To get started on your path to recovery, simply give us a call at 888.773.2193 or schedule an initial consultation online. You can choose to visit us at one of more than 40 treatment centers or make a virtual appointment. Wherever we meet, you can soon look forward to better vascular health.

Sources Cited
[1] McDermott, Mary M., et al. “Asymptomatic Peripheral Arterial Disease Is Associated with More Adverse Lower Extremity Characteristics than Intermittent Claudication.” AHA Journals Circulation, May 5, 2008. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.107.736108
[2] Ibid.
[3] “Diabetic Neuropathy.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, March 3, 2020. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diabetic-neuropathy/symptoms-causes/syc-20371580.
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