If you have Heavy Legs, it feels like you're dragging cinder blocks around with your legs. Your legs may feel tired and stiff as if they can't quite wake up and function properly. In some cases, it can feel as if 5-pound bags of rice are strapped to your legs or like you are walking through wet cement, requiring a great effort to get them moving.
While there are several possible causes for this condition, one of the most serious is a vascular disease. This disease affects the blood vessels and capillaries, especially one rooted in the arteries and deep veins. If you're experiencing heavy leg symptoms and think it may be from vascular disease, it's essential to see your doctor.
What vascular disease causes heavy legs?
If you are experiencing heavy legs due to vascular disease, there are a number of symptoms to watch out for, including:
- Swelling in the leg
- The appearance of spider veins or varicose veins
- A numb or dull feeling in your legs
- Aching or throbbing pain in the legs
- Cold or tingling sensations
- Having a hard time standing or sitting for long periods of time or with walking
- Restless legs
Heavy legs may be caused by an underlying vascular condition such as superficial venous insufficiency (SVI), deep venous insufficiency (DVI), or peripheral artery disease (PAD).
Superficial Venous Insufficiency (SVI)
SVI is a condition that produces leg discomfort, often caused by increased venous pressure or “pooling of blood” in the superficial veins of the legs as blood is not being pumped back to your heart properly. It's often accompanied by a heavy leg feeling and pain, including swelling, throbbing, and aching.
Deep Venous Insufficiency (DVI)
DVI produces similar symptoms as SVI, but it is a condition affecting the deep veins. It's often difficult to tell if you have SVI or DVI until a doctor comes to a diagnosis. DVI may occur separately or in combination with SVI.
Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD)
Lastly, heavy legs can be caused by PAD. Plaque buildup in the arteries can decrease blood flow, making it harder for the body to deliver oxygen to extremities, such as the legs. This leads to the heavy, aching feeling associated with Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD). These symptoms occur typically with increased activity levels such as walking.
How to Treat Heavy Legs (As It Relates to Vascular Disease)
You can do a lot of things at home to help relieve the symptoms of heavy legs. The most important one is to be active, get plenty of exercise, and lose weight if you need to. You can also elevate your legs and wear compression stockings. Nevertheless, if symptoms persist, or become bothersome, seek help from a medical professional.
Your doctor will look at your medical history, ask questions about your symptoms, and run some tests to determine if you have venous insufficiency, PAD or another condition causing your heavy legs. They may also have an ultrasound performed to check how the blood is flowing through your arteries and/or veins.
If your doctor determines that you have vascular disease-causing your heavy leg symptoms, they will develop a treatment plan for you. This plan is likely to include physical activity, weight loss, compression devices, and management of any underlying medical conditions with prescribed medication(s) and lifestyle changes.
They will also tell you to quit smoking if you're a smoker, as smoking can lead to PAD..
In some cases, procedures to improve blood flow in the arteries or veins may be necessary. These treatments may include dye injection into the arteries and/or veins along with treatment to open areas of blockages. These treatments may include venoplasty and stent placement in the veins. For the arteries, treatment may include atherectomy, angioplasty and stent placement.
In most cases, heavy legs caused by a vascular disease is a treatable condition. If you follow your doctor's treatment plan, your symptoms will likely improve and may go away altogether. If you have been diagnosed with vascular disease your doctor should monitor you on a regular basis.
People with PAD are six times more likely to have a cardiac event or stroke and should seek a specialist.
Most people don't show signs or symptoms (asymptomatic) if they have a vascular disease
In some cases, people with vascular disease don't show signs or symptoms and if left untreated, the condition can progress and develop symptoms. If left untreated, symptoms typically worsen and treatment may be necessary.
Manage Heavy Legs after Treatment
After treatment, your doctor will continue to follow long term on a routine basis as vascular disease is a chronic disease process. This may require routine ultrasound studies as well as additional tests.
In cases of PAD you will likely be asked to make some adjustments to your diet and lifestyle in order to prevent further recurrences of heavy legs. These changes may include the introduction of daily exercise, adopting a healthy diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and high in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Your doctor may also make suggestions or prescribe medication such as long term use of aspirin or aspirin-like medications called antiplatelets. You may also be recommended medications for controlling your blood pressure, glucose levels, and cholesterol if necessary. They will also tell you not to smoke, as smoking can significantly impact your treatment for PAD.
In cases of venous disease, you will be asked to continue the use of compression socks or stockings to help support venous health. Your doctor will also recommend routine exercise and alterations in diet to maintain a healthy weight.
Common medication to expect during the treatment period
If diagnosed with venous disease, you may be prescribed supplements such as Vasculera.
If you are diagnosed with PAD or a similar condition, you can expect to receive daily aspirin table along with cholesterol-lowering or high blood pressure medications. For instance, the most common cholesterol-lowering medications are called statins, such as Lipitor (Atorvastatin) and Crestor (Rosuvastatin calcium). Medications to control blood pressure are common and may include Lisinopril, Lotensin (benazepril), Capoten (captopril), and Vasotec (enalapril).
What happens if you don't treat chronic heavy legs?
Long term outcomes of untreated heavy legs depends on the underlying condition.
If caused by underlying venous disease, the symptoms may progress and worsen affecting the ability to continue to be fully active. Chronic symptoms associated with heavy legs, such as swelling and discoloration of the skin may become more difficult and less likely to reverse. Untreated venous disease may put you at higher risk of developing DVT or blood clots.
If caused by arterial disease, the symptoms may progress leading to open sores or ulcerations due to reduced blood flow. Untreated PAD can lead to increased risk of amputation.
It's crucial to work with your doctor to develop a treatment plan together.
What to expect when treating heavy legs with CVM?
The Center for Vascular Medicine (CVM) is dedicated to treatment of vascular diseases. CVM specializes in diagnosing and treating these "silent diseases". The doctors and staff with work together with you to develop a treatment plan that is right for each individual patient. It is the goal of CVM to improve the quality of life for our patients and to prevent the long-term risk of heart disease, stroke, and amputation.
At the Center for Vascular Medicine, our mission is to help patients with their vascular diseases in a cost-effective and compassionate manner. We specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of venous and arterial diseases in the legs, feet, and pelvis. Our world-class providers are the most experienced in the specialty and work with patients to develop a treatment plan that is custom-tailored to their unique situation.
Typically, this process involves an initial consultation and ultrasound scan at one of our accredited facilities. After reviewing the results of your scan and obtaining a thorough medical history, our providers will discuss the results with you and help you decide on the next steps.
Our health care providers use several diagnostic tests to help determine what vascular diseases may be causing your symptoms. Our initial evaluations utilize ultrasound because this non-invasive imaging modality helps us verify our suspicions on whether your symptoms are caused by underlying vascular disease.