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Next Step Foot & Ankle Clinic

Leg Cramps and Bad Circulation in the Legs

How many people have bad circulation in their legs?

About 1 in 10 people over the age of 65 have peripheral vascular disease (PVD), and some studies even go so far as to say it is as high as 2 out of 10. About 4 million Americans over the age of 55 have this problem.

What are the risk factors that cause PVD?

People that smoke, have diabetes, angina, kidney disease, or high blood pressure or cholesterol all have increased risk of PVD. History of a stroke or heart attack also raises the risk of PVD. Obesity or sedentary life style is also a risk factor (see my paper on “Exercise cures everything”). A family history of amputation is also a risk factor. If you are over 60 and have some of these risk factors it is a good idea to get checked regularly.

Caring For Your PVD SymptomsWhat is the main cause of PVD?

The cause of PVD is atherosclerosis, or a narrowing of the arteries. These arteries fill with plaque that narrows the tube that delivers blood to the foot.

What are the symptoms of PVD?

The symptoms of PVD are cramping in the legs with exercise, cold feet, early leg fatigue when walking, foot pain, numbness, or tingling in the feet. Absence of hair on the feet or legs and shiny skin also are signs of PVD. Many people (about 40%) don’t have any symptoms early in the disease. Only testing can pick it up. So if you have 2 or more risk factors and are over 65 years of age it is a good idea to get tested.

How do I find out if I have PVD?

There is an easy test you can do at home for PVD. Go for a fast walk and see how your legs and feet feel. If they start to hurt you may have PDV. Another test is to do heel raises as fast as you can. If you can do 20 or 30 without stopping you are probably OK. The best way to know for sure is to have a non-invasive vascular test done. We use both arterial Doppler tests and Pulse volume recordings in our office for these tests. These tests consist of cuffs being placed on the leg and measuring pressure and wave patterns of the blood flow in your lower extremity to the toe level. It is a quick and painless test- very much like putting on a blood pressure cuff at different locations on your legs down to the toes.

What if I have PVD?

Obviously, get rid of as many of the causes as you can. Stop smoking and get diabetes and blood pressure under control. Get your cholesterol down. Probably the most effective treatment is regular exercise. If you are able exercise, it has a profound effect on circulation. Many people double their walking distance in a month with regular walking. Sometimes vascular surgery is needed. Supplements and prescription medications can also be helpful.