Leg Cramps as Warning Signs of Heart Attack or Stroke Alert

Medical experts are urging the public to be aware of the seriousness of leg pain and its potential link to severe health conditions like strokes or heart attacks.

Leg pain, when experienced during activities like walking, can serve as an early indicator of peripheral artery disease (PAD), a condition that jeopardizes heart and brain health. 

PAD arises from fatty deposits in the leg arteries, obstructing blood flow to muscles, as well as the arteries supporting the heart and brain.

Professor David Newby, British Heart Foundation Professor of Cardiology, stressed the significance of seeking medical advice if individuals encounter gripping or cramping sensations in their calves during physical activity—a potential marker of PAD. This condition is notably prevalent in smokers and those with diabetes.

Contrary to previous beliefs, recent research reveals that PAD is as common in women as it is in men. 

Dr. Aruna Pradhan, a cardiologist and assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, notes that it affects one in every ten women over 50 and one in every five over 60.

While age is a contributing factor, PAD is more likely to occur among individuals who smoke, have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes. 

Symptoms include cramping and pain in the calves, thighs, hips, or buttocks, particularly during movement, and it differs from exercise-induced muscle soreness.

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Understanding and Managing Leg Pain

Medical experts are urging the public to be aware of the seriousness of leg pain and its potential link to severe health conditions like strokes or heart attacks.

The discomfort may manifest when ascending stairs or inclines, with individuals finding the need to frequently pause for breaks. 

However, PAD can also cause leg pain when at rest, accompanied by changes in foot color, slow-healing sores, coldness in the feet, and reduced leg hair or toenail growth.

To assess the risk of PAD, Harvard Medical School recommends a simple test called an ankle-brachial index, measuring blood pressure in the ankle and arm. 

Matching readings indicate clear arteries, while low ankle blood pressure may suggest PAD.

Lifestyle modifications are suggested for PAD management, including regular exercise, smoking cessation, and adopting a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and whole grains. Dr. Pradhan emphasizes the importance of staying active even after a PAD diagnosis.

In addition to lifestyle changes, doctors may prescribe medications such as statins to alleviate PAD symptoms and prevent the formation of fatty deposits. 

Awareness and proactive measures, including seeking medical advice and undergoing simple tests, can significantly contribute to managing the risks associated with leg pain.

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