Leg Pain During Exercise Clue to Peripheral Artery Disease

Like coronary artery disease, peripheral artery disease — or narrowed blood vessels in the legs — can sneak up on you when you least expect it, often hiding symptoms until the disease is severe. That’s exactly what happened to Loretta Brown of Chicago.

This past summer, Loretta experienced cramping, pain, tingling and numbness in her left leg. Walking became an uncomfortable chore. In fact, she couldn’t even climb the 20-plus stairs to her second-floor duplex without taking a breather on the landing. Initially, she thought it might be arthritis.

But when her legs buckled, causing her to fall on three separate occasions, she knew something more serious was behind her symptoms. Loretta’s primary care doctor referred her to a vascular specialist who recommended a Doppler ultrasound scan.

“As it turns out, it wasn’t arthritis at all,” she explains.

“It was peripheral artery disease (PAD).”

That’s when Loretta was referred to Ingalls board-certified interventional radiologist Kevin Keele, M.D.

“PAD is usually caused by atherosclerosis, the same disease process that causes heart attacks and strokes,” Dr. Keele said.

“And even mild PAD is an important signal that atherosclerosis might be affecting vital arteries elsewhere.”

PAD, which affects eight million Americans, narrows arteries in the legs, limiting blood flow to the muscles. Risk factors include diabetes, abnormal cholesterol, cigarette smoking and high blood pressure. Muscle pain, called intermittent claudication, typically comes on with exercise, and is relieved with rest.

“It can take you by surprise, causing no symptoms at all — or cause symptoms you may think are something else,” he added.

In Loretta’s case, the condition was severe — most likely caused by her lifelong cigarette smoking habit.

“Her left common iliac artery (which supplies blood flow to the left leg) was completely blocked,” Dr. Keele said.

So in July, Dr. Keele performed a minimally invasive angioplasty to open up the blocked artery and implanted a stent to keep it open. Loretta was sedated but awake throughout the outpatient procedure.

“I was a little nervous,” she admits. “But the staff in the Interventional Radiology suite talked to me and reassured me throughout the procedure. They were wonderful.”

Following a brief recovery at home, Loretta feels better than ever. Best of all, at her follow-up appointment with Dr. Keele in September, an ultrasound scan showed the newly opened artery was performing exactly as it should.

“The minute I found out I had PAD, I quit smoking,” she added. “I’ve always said quitting was a mental thing, and for me, it was. I only smoked five cigarettes a day, so that’s why it was easy for me to quit. I definitely chose good health over that.”

“I was a little nervous. But they talked to me and reassured me throughout the procedure. They were wonderful.”

— Loretta Brown

Loretta also enjoys exercise, preparing nutritious meals and “juicing” every day. “I feel fabulous,” she said.

“So often we see PAD patients who haven’t taken care of themselves, and they’re on a downward slide,” Dr. Keele added. “But that definitely wasn’t the case with Loretta.

We treated her, and she quit smoking. She’s doing very well.”

If you or someone you know suffers from unexplained leg pain, especially during exercise, it could be PAD. For more information or a referral to an Ingalls specialist, call 708.915.CARE (2273).

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