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May 30, 2006 > Pain in Your Legs May Be Peripheral Vascular Disease

Pain in Your Legs May Be Peripheral Vascular Disease

If you frequently experience muscle pain in your legs while walking or exercising it might be more than just muscle strain.  It could be a serious condition known as peripheral vascular disease (PVD).  PVD is caused by blockages in the blood vessels that result in a loss of circulation, primarily to the legs and feet.  People who have PVD are also more susceptible to heart attacks and strokes.

According to the American Heart Association, PVD affects more than eight million people in the United States, yet many of them do not have symptoms or they mistake the symptoms of PVD for something else.

On Tuesday, June 6, from 1 to 3 p.m., Drs. John Thomas Mehigan and Ash Jain, co-directors of Washington Hospital’s Vascular Services Program, will present the Health & Wellness seminar, "Are You Concerned About Blood Flow in Your Legs?" at Washington West, 2500 Mowry Ave., Fremont in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, Rooms A & B. Dr. Jain, a Washington Hospital Medical Staff cardiologist, will discuss Percutaneous Treatment. Dr. Mehigan will discuss Claudication, Symptoms and Treatment. Washington Hospital also will be providing free screenings for peripheral vascular disease at the same location on Saturday, June 3 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (You must pre-register for this screening.)

"Claudication – or pain in the legs during exercise that usually goes away when you stop exercising – is the primary early symptom of peripheral vascular disease," explains vascular surgeon John Thomas Mehigan, M.D., FACS.  "Signs of more advanced cases might include sores or ulcers that won’t heal or gangrene."

Dr. Mehigan notes that the risk factors for PVD are similar to those for heart disease and strokes.  "The incidence of peripheral vascular disease is enormous," he says.  "Almost everyone gets it to some degree as they age, but it is most prevalent among people who smoke, have diabetes or have a family history of the disease.  Additional risk factors include high blood pressure and high cholesterol."

People who have any of the risk factors for PVD should consult their physician, even if they are not experiencing any symptoms. 

"It is very important for these people to see their doctor," Dr. Mehigan emphasizes.  "Peripheral vascular disease is a warning sign of potential blocked arteries in other areas such as the heart or the brain.  Your doctor should conduct a complete physical exam, taking a detailed medical history and screening for hypertension and high cholesterol.  At our vascular screening, we also conduct a complete evaluation of the legs, checking for weak pulses in the legs and measuring blood pressure in the legs.  We also use ultrasound studies and angiograms to locate any blockages."

Treatment of PVD includes making lifestyle changes to lower your risk factors:

  • Stop smoking

  • Manage diabetes

  • Control blood pressure

  • Increase physical activity and exercise to improve circulation

  • Eat a diet low in saturated fats and cholestero

Various medications, including aspirin, may also be useful.  For patients with more pronounced PVD, treatment might include angioplasty, a non-surgical procedure in which a "balloon" is inserted to open up narrowed or blocked arteries.  Stents – cylindrical wire mesh tubes that keep the arteries open – also may be inserted non-surgically.  If the patient’s condition is more severe, artery bypass surgery may be required.

"Today’s treatments for peripheral vascular disease are very successful," Dr. Mehigan says.  "The key, however, is to recognize that the presence of peripheral vascular disease means you have blocked arteries throughout your body, and you need to have your physician evaluate your heart and carotid arteries as well."

Dr. Mehigan and Dr. Jain will conduct a special Health & Wellness seminar on the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of peripheral vascular disease on Tuesday, June 6 from 1 to 3 p.m.  Washington Hospital also will be providing free screenings for peripheral vascular disease on Saturday, June 3 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.  The seminar and screenings will be held in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, Rooms A & B, in the Washington West Building located at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont. You must pre-register to attend the screening.  For more information, or to register to attend, please call (800) 963-7070.
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