Published on April 06, 2015

When leg pain spells heart trouble

While on a walk, you notice pain in your calf.

Woman's LegsBut after a rest, it goes away. Nothing to worry about, right?

Not so fast. It could be peripheral arterial disease (PAD). And that has a surprising connection to your heart health, says David W. Drucker, MD, an interventional cardiologist at Nazareth Hospital.

Q: What is PAD?

PAD often involves reduced blood flow to your legs. It can cause pain, numbness or more serious problems. And it could be a sign that your heart is at risk too. PAD and heart disease share many risk factors. Smoking is the biggest, along with older age, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and inactivity.

Q: What’s the main symptom?

Not everyone has symptoms. But in those who do, it’s usually leg pain that happens whenever you walk or climb stairs. The pain goes away a few minutes after you stop.

Q: Why is PAD important?

If untreated, it can lead to a serious infection in the leg. Plus, around one-fifth of people with PAD have a heart blockage. So catching PAD can give you a chance to prevent problems like a heart attack or stroke.

Q: How is PAD diagnosed?

It’s as simple as taking your blood pressure at the arm and the ankle. If there’s a big difference between the two, there’s a problem. You may need other tests after that.

Q: How is PAD treated?

Quitting smoking is important. And your doctor may suggest a supervised exercise program.  Medication and, in severe cases, surgery may also be needed.