What does that cramp in your leg mean?

What does that cramp in your leg mean?

Feeling some pain in your legs after a long day may not seem alarming. But it could be a sign of Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD), which affects more than 8 million Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC describes PAD as poor circulation in blood vessels and reports that “PAD in the lower extremities is the narrowing or blockage of the vessels that carry blood from the heart to the legs. It is primarily caused by the buildup of fatty plaque in the arteries, which is called atherosclerosis.”

PAD can be easily overlooked or confused for the normal aging process.

Dr. Jaafer Golzar, an interventional cardiovascular specialist at the Advocate Heart Institute at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill., explains that sometimes there are no warning signs to PAD.

“Peripheral arterial disease can sometimes be asymptomatic,” Dr. Golzar says. “Over time, asymptomatic patients can be at risk for gangrene, leg amputation and even death from heart attacks. It’s really important to identify asymptomatic patients in order to prevent the progression of cardiovascular disease.”

Peripheral arterial disease can lead to amputation in some cases, but it’s becoming more rare.

“We have reduced amputations from a national average of 33% to only 1.5% using a structured limb salvage program. We want patients to know they always have an option for limb salvage. If patients have been recommended amputation without an attempt at limb salvage, they should seek a second opinion,” Dr. Golzar says.

The CDC lays out factors that can increase your risk for PAD:

  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Older than age 60

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  1. What are the best preventative measures and treatments?

  2. I have leg pains a few times a week, also in both legs at different times. I also have heel pain that actually wakes me up from sleep. I have numbness in my left foot but my A1C is normal.

    I do not have pain when I am awake and the numbness doesn’t hinder me in any way.

    Thank you. Barb

  3. F. Dick Maxwell August 12, 2019 at 5:52 pm · Reply

    I had a gun shot to the left leg in 1956…I am 76 years old. In college 1963 I had surgery on my left leg …arterial fistula …the bullet cut through 2 arteries and new arteries were installed…I have little feeling in the upper part of my leg and foot…this week end I danced at my grandsons wedding and that night I had severe leg cramps in both legs…I have had slight cramps in the past but not this bad,….any advice

  4. Wow, in this article you go from leg cramps to amputations from PAD? Is there nothing in between? For example, nothing that people w leg cramps and PAD can do before they lose their legs?

  5. Edwards Lorraine August 15, 2019 at 8:01 pm · Reply

    I’m interested in knowing more as I suffer from leg cramps that wake me up. My PC MD prescribed medication but nothing related to hear disease. My cholesterol was WNL last checked and carotid scan was also normal. What’s in between leg cramps and PAD?
    Thank you for your expertise.

About the Author

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Megan O'Dwyer

Megan O’Dwyer, health enews contributor, is a public affairs specialist on the integrated marketing team at Advocate Aurora Health in Downers Grove. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in advertising from Iowa State with a minor in event management. In her free time, Megan enjoys traveling, cooking the latest recipes and cheering on the Chicago Cubs.