Leg pain can result from muscle soreness, sprains, strains, and inflammation, among other things. But did you know that leg pain can also be a sign of vascular disease?
At Northwest Houston Heart Center, our fellowship-trained cardiologists Dr. A. Adnan Aslam and Dr. Roy Norman want their patients in Tomball, Cypress, Magnolia, and The Woodlands, Texas, to understand that leg pain strongly correlates with vascular disease and needs to be medically addressed. Here’s what you need to know about the possible causes of your leg pain.
Arteries and veins
Your circulatory system is a closed loop centered around your heart. This organ pumps out oxygenated and nutrient-rich blood to the body by way of the arteries and receives deoxygenated blood back by way of the veins. There’s a complicating factor, though. Veins have to move the blood from your extremities against the downward pull of gravity, so they need assistance.
Your calf and thigh muscles contract to help the blood move forward, and the veins are equipped with valves that close once the blood passes by, preventing backflow. The valves are somewhat delicate, and they can be damaged either by injury or by high blood pressure, which stresses the tissue.
If the valves become damaged, they can’t close fully, and blood can move backward along its path, pooling around the damaged area. The vein becomes engorged with blood, and if it’s near the surface of the skin, you can see a colored, ropy protrusion — a varicose vein. This state of sluggish and inefficient blood flow is called chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), and it’s the first stage of vein disease.
CVI comes with a number of symptoms, including leg and ankle swelling, itchiness, a “heavy” feeling, and, of course, leg pain.
Other causes of leg pain
Blood flow that’s sluggish can cause clots to form. So can plaque buildup on the vein walls. If a clot forms in a deep leg vein, the condition is called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). DVT can, by itself, cause leg pain; however, it also carries a life-threatening complication.
If part or all of the clot breaks free of the vein wall, it can travel through the bloodstream to the lungs, where it may block an airway. This condition is called a pulmonary embolism, and if it’s not treated immediately, it can prove fatal. That’s why getting regular vein checkups is so important to your overall health.
If vein disease is left untreated, it can progress to the stage where you develop venous ulcers, open sores on your lower legs and ankles that are slow to heal, easily infected, and extremely painful. If the infection is severe, especially for diabetics, there’s the possibility of lower leg amputation.
We mentioned that plaque can build up on the vein walls. Plaque is composed of fats, cholesterol, protein, cell debris, and calcium carried through the bloodstream. It eventually hardens, narrowing the conduit and making it more difficult for blood to flow through. When it forms in veins serving the lower body, this condition is called peripheral artery disease (PAD).
One of the major symptoms of PAD is claudication, leg pain that becomes intense when walking but lets up when you rest. It’s important to address PAD before it becomes advanced so it doesn’t completely block blood flow through the vein.
If you’re experiencing leg pain and know you haven’t injured yourself, it’s a good idea to come into Northwest Houston Heart Center for an evaluation to determine if you’re suffering from vein disease. Give us a call at any of our locations, or book online today. You can also text us at 832-402-9518.