Is Pain in One Leg a Warning Sign of a Vascular Disease?
Millions of individuals across the globe experience lower limb pain. Athletes and sportspeople are more prone to developing chronic leg pain. The discomfort usually results from muscle strains and pulls; however, pain in one or both legs might indicate serious health conditions.
Common Causes of Leg Pain
Leg pain can hinder motion and reduce the quality of life. You need to understand the root cause of pain before deciding the treatment plans. The most common causes of leg pain include:
Dehydration and electrolyte imbalance (calcium, potassium, sodium) can lead to muscle cramps and strains. Muscle sprains can occur during workouts or athletic training sessions. Sports drinks and water can help.
Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD)
PAD or Peripheral Artery Disease is a condition that arises due to the narrowing of the blood vessels (arteries). This blockage of the blood manifests itself as chronic leg pain. The artery condition is also frequently accompanied by concomitant heart diseases.
Deep Venous Thrombosis
Deep Venous Thrombosis, or DVT, is another condition of the vessels in the leg that has leg pain as its symptom. Blood clots (thrombus) present in the deep veins of the legs compromise blood flow to the lower limb. By analyzing the reduction of pain, doctors can evaluate the success of DVT treatment.
Osteoarthritis (OA) and Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) can affect the joints and bones of the leg, causing persistent leg pain and sometimes affecting the hips and ankle joints. Knee osteoarthritis has a high prevalence in the United States and Asia.
Inflammation of the sciatic nerve due to spinal stenosis or disc herniation can trigger excruciating low back pain that radiates to the leg. Some patients also note isolated pain in one leg (left leg). Leg pain, weakness, and paresthesia are common complaints of sciatica patients.
Injury/Trauma and Fractures
Repetitive exposure of legs to mechanical stress can end up in stress fractures. Athletes have a high propensity to experience stress fractures in the ankle and legs. Injury or trauma to the legs and thighs can be a source of leg pain.
Is Leg Pain at Night Linked to Peripheral Artery Disease?
Experiencing pain in one or both legs at night can seriously affect sleep quality. The interrupted sleep due to leg/foot pain is a serious issue, especially for the senile. Peripheral Artery Disease, or PAD, is a serious health condition associated with claudication or nocturnal pain in one or both legs.
Nocturnal Leg Pain and PAD
Severe PAD patients suffer from critical limb ischemia. Exertional leg pain is a prominent diagnostic feature of PAD.
Lower Limb Pain of PAD
The most prominent diagnostic feature of PAD is muscle pain that increases activity. This claudication-induced pain results from decreased blood supply to the lower limb. Research shows that obstruction of the leg arteries initiates ischemia of the limbs. This reduced microvascular flow in the limb impairs muscle function.
According to a cross-sectional study, PAD’s most common leg symptoms include exertional leg pain, weakness of the muscles, and color changes in the skin.
What Causes Intermittent Claudication (Leg Pain Due to PAD)?
The compromised blood flow (ischemia) in the leg(s) is attributed to atherosclerosis, a condition characterized by plaque in the arteries. Studies show that many PAD patients have underlying atherosclerosis that results in critical limb ischemia.
Hypertension patients (high blood pressure) with high levels of cholesterol in the body are more prone to plaque formation in the vessels. Another risk factor for atherosclerosis is smoking.
Other Signs and Symptoms of PAD
There are other leg symptoms of PAD that may be associated with claudication. You might also notice the following symptoms:
- Numbness and paraesthesia in the legs
- Muscle weakness in the legs and feet
- Inability to walk (due to leg pain on exertion)
- A feeling of cold in the feet and ankle region
- Cramping of legs when climbing stairs
What Happens if You Ignore the Pain?
If your pain in one leg or both legs is induced by PAD, it is crucial to get medical attention as soon as possible. If you ignore the pain and the outcome of PAD, it may lead to other severe situations, including:
Ulcerations and Gangrene
Decreased blood flow to the lower extremities means reduced nutrition and oxygen perfusion. The compromises in the blood supply promote the chances of ulcer development and infections. Gangrene is a condition characterized by necrosis of muscles/fascia due to diminished blood flow.
According to this study, a vast majority of untreated PAD cases progress to gangrene which is associated with high mortality rates.
Severe cases of PAD progress to gangrene. The necrotizing condition (gangrene) has a poor prognosis and eventually leads to amputation of the affected part. Old-age patients must get their leg pain checked as a priority. Research suggests that chances of lower extremity amputation are high with PAD in the senile. Almost half of all PAD patients undergoing amputation die within a year.
Diabetes patients need to take special care because circulation is even more compromised due to the chronic condition. As per a study, amputation rates in the US are high in diabetes patients.
As atherosclerosis is the root cause of both PAD and coronary artery disease, there is a greater risk of falling prey to heart infirmities. Untreated PAD puts you one step closer to heart infirmities. Researchers estimate that PAD patients have a 70% greater risk of developing heart diseases and suffering a heart attack.
Atherosclerosis can lead to the formation of blood clots (thrombi). If a thrombus blocks the flow in a coronary artery, heart attacks ensue, and if the clot hinders blood flow to the brain, it can lead to a stroke. Research shows a high risk of cerebrovascular accident (stroke) in PAD patients.
Vascular Disease Treatment for Leg Pain
You can relieve your leg pain by managing symptoms of PAD. Lifestyle changes and medications are usually recommended in mild cases. Drugs are given to lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels. Medicines to prevent the formation of blood clots are also part of the regimen.
For advanced cases, minimally invasive procedures such as atherectomy remove the plaque in your arteries. In this procedure, a tiny catheter is introduced into the artery, and a ballon (at the tip of the catheter) is used to clear the debris and plaque and doctors may insert a stent to keep the artery open.
While pain in one leg may be a warning sign of vascular disease, there are several reasons you may experience pain in one or both legs, either during the day or at night. After eliminating common causes of leg pain, such as injury or arthritis, you should seek the advice of a healthcare professional for a PAD diagnosis and treatment.