Why Heart Doctors Care So Much About Your Legs

From left to right, Daniel Ice, MD and Richard Kovach, MD

KYW Staff
July 18, 2019 - 4:15 pm

It can be frustrating when a leg cramp interrupts a strenuous workout or a good night’s sleep. There are lots of triggers for this fleeting-but-painful occasional occurrence: long periods of exercise, dehydration, and reactions to certain medications or even mineral depletion are among them. Adjusting to the possible causes can help such cramps resolve on their own.

When leg cramps occur during walking and vanish upon resting -- on a regular basis -- it’s worth discussing the possibility of an underlying condition with your doctor. It could mean inadequate blood supply to your legs and feet caused by peripheral artery disease (PAD), a serious condition that can lead to amputations when left untreated.

“Some people come in after noticing muscle fatigue and cramping, or leg weakness and low exercise endurance and say. ‘Oh, I was thinking I was just getting older and not able to do the things I used to be able to do,’ but those are signs,” says interventional cardiologist Daniel Ice, MD, of Deborah Heart and Lung Center.

PAD can affect any blood vessels outside the heart – those that go to the brain, or to internal organs such as the kidneys or intestines. In half of sufferers, there are no noticeable early symptoms, but it’s uncommon for PAD to occur in individuals who don’t already carry high risk for heart disease. Understanding those risks and modifying them can go a long way toward preventing the development of PAD, or catching it early when it can be treated least invasively.

Peripheral artery disease signs and symptoms include:

  • Painful cramping in one or both of your hips, thighs or calf muscles after certain activities, such as walking or climbing stairs (claudication)
  • Leg numbness or weakness
  • Coldness in your lower leg or foot, especially when compared with the other side
  • Sores on your toes, feet or legs that won't heal
  • A change in the color of your legs
  • Hair loss or slower hair growth on your feet and legs
  • Slower growth of your toenails
  • Shiny skin on your legs
  • No pulse or a weak pulse in your legs or feet
  • Erectile dysfunction in men

When to see a doctor:

If you have leg pain, numbness or other symptoms, don't dismiss them as a normal part of aging. Call your doctor and make an appointment.

Even if you don't have symptoms of peripheral artery disease, you may need to be screened if you are:

  • Over age 65
  • Over age 50 and have a history of diabetes or smoking
  • Under age 50, but have diabetes and other peripheral artery disease risk factors, such as obesity or high blood pressure

If you or a loved one has concerns about blood flow to the extremities, Deborah is hosting a PAD screening and education event at their Burlington Country location on September 21, 2019. Call to register 609-621-2080 or go to DemandDeborah.org.

KYW’s Rasa Kaye talks with Deborah’s Dr. Ice about structural heart disease, interventional cardiology and how he and his team diagnose and treat the blood vessel blockages that lead to peripheral artery disease.