Leg Pain That Uncovers Heart Disease


When older adults have difficulty walking short distances without pain, they may be suffering from peripheral arterial disease (PAD), a condition that puts them at increased risk for cardiovascular disease, heart attack and stroke. PAD is also the leading cause of limb amputations – of which there are approximately 185,000 in the United States each year.

Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD), more commonly known as hardening of the arteries, affects millions of Americans. It is a condition in which the large and medium-sized arteries supplying blood to the legs become narrow or clogged, constricting the flow of blood. PAD is caused by cholesterol and scar tissue buildup, forming plaque which clogs the artery. Men and women are equally affected by PAD. Some of the risk factors include cigarette smoking, elevated blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels and diabetes.

“The presence of PAD increases the likelihood of death by 30% within five years,” says Dr. Harruna. “People need to know that the classic symptom of PAD is pain in the legs with exertion (such as walking), which is relieved by resting. Pains, aches, or cramps while walking can occur in the buttock, hip, thigh, or calf.”

Additional limb symptoms may include numbness, coolness, nonhealing ulcers or gangrene.

Over 50% of all people with peripheral arterial disease go undiagnosed and are not being treated for their disease. Treatment for PAD includes avoiding cigarettes and tobacco, getting regular exercise, a heart-healthy diet, and medication. In some cases, angioplasty or surgery may be required.

The next time someone says, “My legs hurt when I walk, I must be getting old”, encourage them to have the pain checked out. They can reach a Hannibal Regional Cardiologist at 573-629-3300.