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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