Most people are familiar with the normal aches and pains associated with getting older. However, if you have noticed increasing numbness or sharp muscle cramping in your legs while exercising, walking or simply climbing stairs, it may be a signal of more than aging bones and muscles.

Over 8 million Americans have Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD), a condition that mainly affects the arteries in your legs. Also known as atherosclerosis, PAD occurs when blood vessels outside of your heart narrow due to a build-up of plaque. Over time, the plaque can harden, limiting blood flow to your organs and limbs. If left untreated, it can lead to heart attack or stroke.

Know Your Risk

Certain health conditions, as well as lifestyle choices, can increase your possibility for developing PAD. Some of the top risk factors include:

  • Smoking
  • Age
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol

Know the Symptoms

If you think you are at risk for PAD, see your doctor immediately if you start experiencing:

  • Pain in your legs that does not go away when physical activity is stopped
  • Wounds on the foot that do not heal or appear to heal very slowly
  • Gangrene
  • A noticeable decrease of body temperature in your lower leg

No One Should Live With Leg Pain

The goal for treating PAD is to reduce painful symptoms and prevent further narrowing of blood vessels. There are several options, with the easiest being regular physical activity. If that isn't enough, your doctor may prescribe medications, such as those used to treat high blood pressure and cholesterol.

When pain persists, minimally invasive procedures like angioplasty may be necessary. In this situation, vascular specialists insert a tube (catheter) to reach the site of the blockage. They then use lasers, balloons or stents to open the clogged vessel and restore blood flow. In some severe cases, more invasive procedures, such as bypass surgery, may be necessary.

Talk to Your Doctor

It's important not to ignore leg pain since it could be a sign you're at risk for other cardiovascular problems, such as heart attack or stroke.

To find a doctor or speak to a nurse, call Consult-A-Nurse® at (951) 788-3463, 24 hours a day.