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Listen to Your Leg Pain: It Could be Telling You Something Serious Featured

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leg painThat pain in your legs when you climb the stairs could indicate something far more serious than your age, lack of exercise or couch potato status. You could be one of the 8 to 12 million people in the United States with peripheral vascular disease (PVD) – a disease of the blood vessels outside of the heart and brain.

PVD occurs when fatty deposits known as plaque build up in the inner lining of artery walls, causing a narrowing of the vessels that carry blood to the legs.

“Factors that can cause plaque buildup include smoking, high amounts of certain fats in the blood, high blood pressure and high amounts of sugar in the blood due to diabetes,” said Thomas Livingston, M.D., radiologist on the medical staff at Baylor All Saints Medical Center at Fort Worth.

Symptoms of PVD include pain, numbness, aching or heaviness in the leg muscles when walking or climbing stairs. Symptoms may also include cramping in the legs, buttocks, thighs, calves and feet. However, keep in mind that at least half of the people who have PVD don’t have any signs or symptoms of it, according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

An accurate diagnosis of PVD is essential to your health because if you have PVD, your risk for coronary artery disease, heart attack, stroke and transient ischemic attack (“mini-stroke”) is six to seven times greater than the risk for people who don’t have PVD, according to the NHLBI.

PVD is diagnosed based on a person’s medical and family histories, a physical exam and test results. An ankle-brachial index (ABI) is a simple test that is commonly used to diagnose PVD. The ABI compares blood pressure in a person’s ankle to blood pressure in their arm. The test shows how well blood is flowing in the limbs.

Treatment for PVD includes lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, lowering blood pressure and getting regular exercise; medications; and surgery and procedures, including bypass grafting and angioplasty.

“Making lifestyle changes is not only one of the best ways to treat PVD, it’s also the best way to prevent it in the first place,” said Dr. Livingston.

Baylor All Saints Medical Center

For more information about Baylor All Saints Medical Center at Fort Worth, visit

Last modified on Tuesday, 24 July 2012 19:04
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