Got chest pain? You are quite likely to be worried about having a heart attack, and will likely seek medical attention. And quickly, too, since chest pain is often a sign of an imminent heart attack. But what if your body was able to give you an earlier warning, one that gave you more time to treat—and possibly prevent—damage to your heart? As it turns out, there is one early sign you need to note, and that signal is leg cramping, especially when you’re walking.
Leg Cramping and Heart Attacks: What’s the Connection?
Leg cramps are a symptom of peripheral artery disease (PAD), a condition that elevates your risk of heart attack, among other problems.
When you have PAD, fatty deposits (plaque) have built up in the arteries of your legs, limiting blood flow to those muscles and making simple movements like walking or standing very painful. The pain, usually felt like a tight cramp, usually begins in your calf muscles, but you may also have pain in your hips, thighs or buttocks. PAD pain will typically hurt only when you move, and the pain will usually abate after a short period of rest.
Other symptoms of PAD can include:
- loss of hair on your legs and feet
- Weak or numb legs
- Slow-growing, brittle toenails
- Skin color changes on your legs
- Shiny skin
- Shrinking leg muscles
- Foot and leg ulcers
- Erectile dysfunction in men
Your risk for PAD is elevated if you smoke or have diabetes, but it can affect any man or woman, especially if you are over the age of 60.
PAD and Heart Disease
If your leg pain is caused by PAD, it’s important to know that diagnosis, since PAD also increases your risk of a heart attack. In order to diagnose PAD, your vein specialist can perform an ankle-brachial index, to measures the blood pressure in your ankle and arm.
If your arteries are clear, the two readings will match. But if the pressure in your ankle is low, you may have PAD. And if you do, your doctor will begin a treatment plan that will likely involve lifestyle changes like a healthier diet and increased physical activity, both of which can also reduce your risk of heart attack.
But none of those changes can protect you without an accurate PAD diagnosis, and Pad is often overlooked since its symptoms mimic so many other conditions. So, if your legs hurt when you move, don’t brush the discomfort off as a sign of aging or ‘over-doing it.’ See your doctor right away. Doing so may just save your life!