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CourierPost article by Dr. Steven J. Kernis

If you suffer from leg pain while walking or exercising, you may blame arthritis, but the problem could be much more serious. It could be peripheral artery disease (PAD). "Leg pain when walking should not be automatically chalked up to arthritis or aging", said Associated Cardiovascular Consultants interventional cardiologist Steven Kernis, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.S.C.A.I.

"PAD occurs when the walls of arteries in the body outside of the heart become clogged with fatty deposits, reducing blood flow to the legs and causing pain when walking. If left untreated, PAD can lead to disability and even amputation. It's also a warning sign that arteries in the heart and brain may be blocked, increasing your risk for heart attack and stroke."

PAD and your legs

It's important to know the difference between pain caused by arthritis and symptoms that indicate blocked blood flow. Atherosclerosis develops and builds up slowly in many cases and it may therefore go unnoticed as symptoms may also develop gradually over time. As the disease progresses, lower extremity discomfort may occur in the feet, legs, thighs, hips, and buttocks. This discomfort may commonly manifest as exertional tightness, cramping, fatigue, weakness, 'charlie horse', heaviness, or tingling relieved with rest.

Other symptoms of PAD include:

  • Pale or bluish skin
  • Lack of hair or nail growth on lower legs
  • Sores on toes, feet or legs that heal slowly or not at all

About 8 million Americans have PAD. See your doctor if you have any of these symptoms. "PAD can be diagnosed by answering a few health questions and with a simple test called an ankle-brachial index. It is a screening tool that determines PAD severity by comparing blood pressure in your arms with blood pressure in your legs," said Dr. Kernis. "A much lower leg pressure signifies PAD."

Arthritis affects joints

Arthritis leg pain generally is associated with specific joints-either knees or hips. When cartilage around the joint breaks down, pain, stiffness and swelling can result. Arthritic joints may also be warm and have limited movement. If joint pain lasts beyond three days, see a doctor. Also get medical attention for:

  • Severe, unexplained joint pain
  • A significantly swollen joint
  • A joint that's hot to touch
  • Difficulty moving the joint
  • A fever with the joint pain
  • Unintentional weight loss

"Having PAD is not the end of the world," said Dr. Kernis. "Medication, lifestyle change and procedures like angioplasty can improve the health of arteries throughout your body."

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