Your Sore Feet may be warning you of heart disease
You go for a long walk and your legs and feet start to hurt. Is it fatigue? Is it a muscle strain? Or is it a sign of something more serious? It could be a sign of atherosclerosis — hardening of the arteries. And that could mean serious health problems, including heart attack or stroke.
Such a condition is called peripheral arterial disease, or PAD. It occurs when plaque forms in the arteries the carry blood from the heart to other parts of the body, including the legs, arms and torso.
While pain in
your feet or legs generally does not signal the onset of heart problems, many people aren’t aware of the possibility. Typically, the pain goes away when a person rests, returning only when he or she walks again. PAD may be marked by leg cramps — but cramps also may be a sign of dehydration or other relatively benign conditions. Other signs may include hair loss in the painful area, numbness, a weakened or absent pulse or skin discoloration.
Further, not everyone with PAD shows symptoms. Health experts say as many as 40 percent of those with PAD show no signs of the condition.
But it’s a potentially serious — even fatal — condition. Untreated, it may lead to a heart attack, amputation, kidney problems, restricted mobility or stroke.
The good news
While it can be challenging to recognize that leg or foot pain is related to the condition of the arteries, the good news is that it’s relatively easy for a health care provider to diagnose peripheral arterial disease. There is a range of non-invasive options for checking whether the arteries in your feet or legs have narrowed and present a health risk. The choices include an angiogram, a test known as the ankle-brachial index, which employs a blood-pressure cuff, a treadmill test and magnetic resonance imaging.
If you show signs of atherosclerosis, here’s more good news: In many cases, it may be treated simply by making lifestyle changes. This means avoiding smoking, reducing the consumption of alcohol, eating a healthier diet and getting more exercise. More aggressive treatments may include medication, angioplasty or vascular surgery. But all are common, high-success-rate procedures.