Leg pain can signal something much, much more serious –like an impending heart attack or stroke.
Atherosclerosis occurs when leg arteries carrying oxygenated blood partially clog because LDLs (“bad” cholesterol) accumulates on artery walls. The body dispatches white blood cells to clear out the cholesterol, but the cells can get stuck in the clogged area, adding to the partial blockage, limiting blood flow and causing leg pain.
Should pieces of this plaque break off, fragments can stick together and form blood clots that can cause a heart attack or stroke.
This problem starts when artery walls harden and lead to plaque build-up. That can be traced to high blood sugar levels, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels or smoking. Diabetics and those with a family history of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease are vulnerable.
What kind of leg pain may be a warning sign?
- Pain at night, relieved by hanging the hurting leg over the side of the bed
- Pain when walking up stairs
- Consistent cramping during long walks
- Cramping during exercise or exertion
- Pain in the feet, thighs or buttocks
- Calf pain easing after about 10 minutes of rest
Another blood-clot ailment, deep vein thrombosis (DVT), can signal a pulmonary embolism, a sudden blockage of a lung artery, which can harm lungs and other organs and be life-threatening. It has symptoms more easily discernible: swelling of the leg or along the clogged vein; pain or tenderness when standing or walking; unusual warmth in a swollen or painful leg area; or discolored skin.
However, many leg pain causes are obvious. Shin splints and muscle strains result from repetitive impact when running, jogging or hiking. Stress fractures occur when the intensity or timing of workouts increase too quickly.
Besides lifestyle changes, medications and medical procedures can help. Treatments have improved to the point where atherosclerosis-related diseases can be alleviated or avoided.