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May 24, 2011 > Could Your Leg Pain Be More Than What Meets the Eye?

Could Your Leg Pain Be More Than What Meets the Eye?

Attend a Free Screening and Seminar to Learn About Peripheral Vascular Disease

Most of us know that chest pain-even pain in the arm-can potentially indicate a heart attack. But pain in the lower leg? What does that have to do with heart-and brain-health?

For people suffering from peripheral vascular disease (PVD), extremity pain-often in the calf region-could actually be more than just a problem in the leg; it also could be a warning sign of risk for heart attack and ischemic stroke, both of which stem from a blockage of blood flow to two of our most important organs, the heart and brain, respectively.

And according to Washington Hospital Medical Staff cardiologist Ash Jain, M.D., 50 percent of patients suffer from arterial disease in all three organ systems.

On Saturday, June 11, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Dr. Jain and Washington Hospital Medical Staff vascular surgeon John Thomas Mehigan, M.D. will conduct a free community screening for PVD. Then on Tuesday, June 14, from 1 to 3 p.m., the physicians will present a seminar discussing the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment options for PVD.

PVD is a disease of the blood vessels outside the heart, which affects the peripheral circulation and sometimes causes pain or cramping in the arms or legs that typically occurs with exercise and subsides with rest.

But leg or arm extremity pain may tell a more complex tale of potential risk to the heart and brain, according to Dr. Jain and Dr. Mehigan.

"The goal is for audience members to learn the signs of PVD and seek help," Dr. Jain says. "If they don't seek help, PVD will begin to cause problems locally in the legs, which leads to discomfort when exercising. As a result, patients become increasingly sedentary and raise their chances of developing other types of vascular disease due to risk factors such as diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension and obesity."

This is when the real trouble begins.

"When these factors begin affecting heart and brain, patients then have a increased rate of mortality. It's not the leg pain that kills them, but the underlying heart and brain conditions, including heart attack and stroke, that will prove deadly," says Dr. Mehigan.

Dr. Jain adds that if PVD is not addressed, it quickly becomes a vicious cycle of worsening the risk factors that can lead to loss of limbs, heart attack and stroke.

"You can say, 'It's just my legs that are hurting and I'm not going to deal with it,' but if left untreated, PVD makes regular exercise intolerable-and it is regular exercise that helps prevent blockage from getting worse in all the organ systems," Dr. Jain says. "It is good to address PVD and improve your symptoms so that you can exercise regularly."

Risk factors that may indicate PVD - as well as heart disease and stroke - include:
* Diabetes
* Cigarette smoking
* High blood pressure (hypertension)
* High levels of the "bad" cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL)
* Previous stroke or heart attack
* Obesity
* Sedentary lifestyle (minimal regular exercise)
* Age (Men over age 50 are affected more frequently.)
* Family history of heart disease
* Cardiovascular disease, covering several conditions affecting the heart

Dr. Mehigan emphasizes that learning your family history is crucial to understanding whether you are at risk for PVD, heart attack or stroke.

"Examine your family history for these risk factors," he notes. "If you don't know your history, find out about it. What did your mother die of? What did your father die of?"

If you have multiple family members that suffered from heart disease, there's a good chance that you could to. Dr. Mehigan advises talking to your primary care physician and getting screened for factors like high cholesterol, high blood sugar and high blood pressure.

Free PVD Screening at Washington Hospital

Washington Hospital's upcoming free PVD screening on Saturday, June 11, will use a painless, non-invasive Doppler study to detect whether or not a person has PVD. After the test, the physicians will explain the results and refer participants to their primary care physician if necessary.

In advanced stages, PVD may require more aggressive treatment options, revascularization with angioplasty or surgery along with drug treatment, including medicines to help improve walking distance (cilostazol and pentoxifylline), antiplatelet agents and cholesterol-lowering agents (statins).

But, if PVD is caught during early stages, Dr. Jain says the answer is a simple one.

"Ultimately, the solution for improved cardiovascular health is diet and exercise," he says. "Diet and exercise are the mainstays of management. When you start having arterial blockages in the legs, you stop exercising, which does not help your risk factors for cardiac disease and stroke.

"It's important to remember that PVD is a fixable disease. But first, you have to recognize the symptoms and get diagnosed."

Reduce your risk

On Saturday, June 11, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. a peripheral vascular disease screening, consisting of a painless, noninvasive Doppler study of the legs, will be held in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium.

To learn more about the condition from Dr. Jain and Dr. Mehigan, join them for a free Health & Wellness seminar on Tuesday, June 14, from 1 to 3 p.m. in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, located in the Washington West building at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont.

To register for the seminar and/or screening, call (800) 963-7070.

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