The Herald Banner, Greenville, TX

July 5, 2007

Leg cramps could be sign of heart attack, stroke

By Hassan Farroq, MD

Can a leg cramp be a sign of heart problems and/or a stroke? The answer is yes.

Poor circulation in the legs' arteries can be a sign of poor circulation in heart arteries. A person having leg cramps, not being able to walk as much or having pain in the legs at rest must be tested for poor circulation or Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD).

PAD is a common and serious disease, which is caused by fat and cholesterol deposits in leg arteries that lead to poor circulation. It affects approximately eight to 12 million Americans, which means one in 20 Americans over the age of 50.

PAD can be a silent process without any leg pains, but leg cramps are the most common sign of PAD. At times, however, patients don't tell their care provider. Patients wrongly accept leg problems as an aging process or arthritis. Other symptoms of PAD include pain in the legs and feet during sleep, poor or non healing wounds and sores, cold legs and feet and poor hair and nail growth.

Testing for PAD predicts the risk of heart attack and stroke. Clogged arteries in the leg are more commonly related to the clogged arteries in the heart. Leg cramps may be a sign of lack of blood supply to the leg muscles. This process has similarities with heart attack, being caused by a blood clot developing over an already inflamed and broken tiny lump of cholesterol (plaque) inside the heart artery.

The following conditions increase a person's chances of having PAD: age over 50 years; smoker, current or past (four times increased risk); diabetes (three times increased risk); high blood pressure; high blood cholesterol; a personal history of vascular disease; heart attack or a stroke. African Americans have two times more the risk of having PAD compared to Caucasians.

Diagnosis is made during an office visit using specialized equipment. This equipment checks the blood flow in the arms and legs with the help of sound waves. This is a pain free process and does not involve any blood draws.

Treatment of PAD helps keep the individual independent, improves quality of life and lowers the risk of heart attack, stroke, leg amputation and death.

Treatment of PAD is based on: Quitting smoking; life style changes such as healthy eating and weight; increase physical activity; medication to fix your numbers (cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar); and special procedures to open the blocked artery.

Please learn more about PAD by talking to your health care provider. This can help you maintain good circulation in your heart, brain and legs.

This article was provided by Greenville physician Hassan Farooq, MD


Factors associated with increased risk of PAD

Increasing Age

Smoker, past or current (risk increased by four times)

Diabetes (risk increased by three times)

High Cholesterol

History of a previous circulation problem

History of stroke

Persons describing themselves as African Americans

Types of Treatment for PAD

Quit smoking

Weight loss

Life style changes




Posted by Tracy Chesney