Early Fall 2008
Do You Have Leg Pain?
Do You Have Leg Pain?

Imagine walking – pain free!

If you felt pain in your chest, you wouldn’t ignore it—right? But if you felt pain in your legs, you might put off asking your doctor about it. That could be a serious mistake, because leg pain isn’t always due to muscle strain. It could be due to peripheral arterial disease (PAD).

PAD occurs when the arteries that carry blood to the arms or legs become narrowed or clogged with plaque—the same plaque that causes coronary (heart) artery disease. As the plaque increases in the arteries, blood flow decreases. This lack of blood flow for periods of time can

cause pain in the legs while walking (called claudication).

"Most patients describe the discomfort as a tightness, fatigue or ache in the calf muscles, thighs or buttocks," says cardiologist Robert Fishman, MD, Chairman of the Board of the Vascular Institute at Bridgeport Hospital.

"The pain is typically predictable—it comes on after walking a certain distance, and it goes away with rest."

"Other symptoms of PAD include leg numbness, tingling or weakness, cold legs or feet, hair loss on the legs or discoloration," says vascular surgeon Seth Blattman, MD. "In severe cases, a person with PAD may develop a sore on the foot that does not heal or gangrene."

Treatment for PAD starts with making significant lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, lowering cholesterol, lowering blood pressure and managing diabetes. A walking program can help improve symptoms, as can certain medications.

If lifestyle changes and medical therapy don’t work, PAD can be treated using minimally invasive procedures, such as angioplasty (a procedure in which a tiny balloon is used to open a blocked artery to improve blood flow), stenting (insertion of a tiny metal tube used to keep the artery open), atherectomy (cutting the blockage out) or with a laser. Traditional open surgical procedures such as bypass surgery are considered for patients who are not candidates for the minimally invasive techniques or with more advanced disease.

"Most importantly, people who have PAD must take steps to avoid heart attack or stroke, as they may also have blockages in the arteries to their heart or brain,” says Dr. Fishman.

"The bottom line is, any severe leg pain shouldn’t be ignored," says Dr. Blattman.

For a referral to an expert vascular surgeon affiliated with Bridgeport Hospital, please call Bridgeport Hospital Physician Referral, 24/7, at 1-888-357-2396, or visit www.bridgeporthospital.com/FindPhysician.