If Your Legs Feel Like This, Have Your Heart Checked, Says Mayo Clinic
Don't dismiss this serious symptom as a normal part of aging, they warn.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America, and one of the greatest threats to your health. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart failure is behind one in every four fatalities in the U.S., causing a death every 36 seconds. And while heart attacks may have a reputation for being sudden, random, and unavoidable, that couldn't be further from the truth. Heart attacks are usually the result of chronic heart conditions that build slowly over time, and your chances of having one can be lessened with early health interventions.
That's exactly why the CDC recommends that you get regularly screened for chronic conditions that lead to serious coronary events—before you pass a point of no return. In particular, some experts are sounding the alarm about peripheral artery disease (PAD), which currently affects 6.5 million Americans over the age of 40. In those with PAD, a buildup of fatty plaques causes narrowed or blocked arteries, which can ultimately lead to heart attack or stroke. And, the Mayo Clinic says that the key to spotting this condition may be to pay close attention to changes in the feeling in your legs. Read on to learn which strange symptom to look out for, and to find out when you should call the doctor.
If you frequently notice "coldness in your lower leg or foot, especially when compared with the other side," the Mayo Clinic says that this could be due to poor circulation resulting from blocked arteries. For this reason, their experts warn that you should "not dismiss [this symptom] as a normal part of aging."
"These deposits are made up of cholesterol, fatty substances, cellular waste products, calcium and fibrin (a clotting material in the blood)," the American Heart Association (AHA) explains. "As plaque builds up, the wall of the blood vessel thickens. This narrows the channel within the artery—reducing blood flow. That lessens the amount of oxygen and other nutrients reaching the body."
Ultimately, if blood flow to the heart is interrupted, it can result in a heart attack. Similarly, if a clot forms in these narrow arteries and restricts blood flow to the brain, it can result in a stroke.
According to the CDC, "PAD can happen in any blood vessel, but it is more common in the legs than the arms." For many people, this blockage in the lower extremities can contribute to difficulty walking, chronic leg pain, or numbness.
However, not everyone develops PAD in the legs. "Where plaque develops, and the type of artery affected, varies with each person. Plaque may partially or totally block blood flow through large- or medium-sized arteries in the heart, brain, pelvis, legs, arms or kidneys," says the AHA.
In addition to causing peripheral artery disease, blockages in these other bodily areas can lead to coronary heart disease, angina, carotid artery disease, or even chronic kidney disease, the organization says.
If you suffer from a coronary event, your symptoms may differ based on the underlying cause, the Mayo Clinic explains. If your heart condition is the result of compromised blood vessel—as in the case of peripheral artery disease—you may notice chest pain, chest tightness, shortness of breath, numbness or weakness in your extremities, or pain in the neck, jaw, throat, or abdomen in addition to a cold sensation in your legs or arms.
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Experts from the Mayo Clinic say that if you do experience any of the symptoms above, you should contact your medical provider immediately. However, even if you don't experience any symptoms of PAD, you may still request a screening if you are over the age of 65, over 50 with a history of diabetes or smoking, or under 50 with a history of diabetes and other PAD risk factors, including obesity or high blood pressure.
The American Heart Association warns that smoking, having high cholesterol, and having elevated levels of triglycerides in your blood are additional risk factors. Committing to exercise, quitting smoking, and managing chronic conditions such as hypertension, high cholesterol, or diabetes can all lower your risk of a coronary event resulting from PAD.