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May 22, 2012 > Is Your Leg Pain a Symptom of Something More Serious?

Is Your Leg Pain a Symptom of Something More Serious?

Free Screening Helps to Identify Risk of Peripheral Vascular Disease

Your lower leg hurts when you walk, but the pain goes away with rest, so you brush it off as an annoyance. After all, the pain went away, so it can't be too big of a problem. Right? Not so fast. Sometimes even passing pain can be a sign of a health condition that shouldn't be ignored.

For example, peripheral vascular disease (PVD), which often causes pain in the calf region during exercise, can be a warning sign of risk for heart attack and ischemic stroke-both of which stem from a blockage of blood flow to the heart and brain, respectively.

In fact, 50 percent of patients suffer from arterial disease in all three organ systems-the heart, the brain, and their extremities-according to Washington Hospital cardiologist Ash Jain, M.D., and Washington Hospital vascular surgeon John Thomas Mehigan, M.D.

And now is the chance to do something about it.

Free screening and seminar

On Saturday, June 9, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Dr. Jain and Dr. Mehigan will conduct a free community screening for PVD. Then, on Tuesday, June 12, from 1 to 3 p.m., the physicians will present a seminar discussing the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options for PVD.

PVD affects the blood vessels outside the heart, impairing peripheral circulation and which can cause pain or cramping in the arms or legs, which typically occurs with exercise and then subsides with rest. Though the pain usually occurs in the legs, it may tell a more complex tale of potential risk to the heart and brain, according to Dr. Jain and Dr. Mehigan.

"When these factors begin affecting the heart and brain, patients then have an increased rate of mortality," Dr. Mehigan says. "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."

Dr. Jain says that the goal of the screening and seminar is to raise awareness so that people talk to their doctor before they suffer from a heart attack or stroke that perhaps could have been prevented.

"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."

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

"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 explains. "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

According to Dr. Mehigan, the best place to start looking at your risk for PVD, heart attack, and stroke is probably your family tree.

"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? This information can give you important clues about your hereditary risk."

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

Free PVD Screening at Washington Hospital

The free PVD screening on Saturday, June 9, 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).

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

"The first steps toward improved cardiovascular health are healthy diet and regular exercise," he says. "The sooner you can incorporate these things into your lifestyle, the better your overall health will be, because when people start having arterial blockages in the legs, they often stop exercising, which does not help risk factors for cardiac disease and stroke.

"PVD can be easily fixed, if diagnosed earlier on. In advanced stages, it can be tedious to maintain the arteries open," according to Dr. Jain. "Hence, the earlier you recognize the symptoms and the earlier the diagnosis is made, easier the treatment is."

Reduce your risk

On Saturday, June 9, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., a peripheral vascular disease (PVD) screening, consisting of a painless, noninvasive Doppler study of the legs, will be held in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium.

Dr. Mehigan and Dr. Jain will then present a free Health & Wellness seminar on Tuesday, June 12, 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.

Pre-registration for the screening is required; walk-ins cannot be accommodated. To register for the seminar and/or screening, call (800) 963-7070.

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