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Washington Hospital To Offer Free PVD Screenings on June 6

Pain in Your Legs? It Might Not Be Your Muscles

If you are experiencing pain in your legs while walking or exercising, it might be more than muscle strain. Pain in one or both legs during exercise that usually goes away when you stop exercising is the primary early symptom of a serious condition known as peripheral vascular disease (PVD).

PVD is caused by blockages in the blood vessels – primarily the arteries that carry oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body, but also in some rare cases the veins that carry blood back to the lungs and heart. These blockages result in a loss of blood circulation to the body’s extremities, particularly to the legs and feet. People who have PVD also are more likely to experience other cardiovascular conditions such as heart attacks and strokes.

“The body’s vascular system is all interconnected,” says cardiologist Ash Jain, MD, who serves at Washington Hospital as medical co-director of Vascular Services, as well as medical director of both the Stroke Program and Invasive Vascular Imaging.

“Blockages of blood vessels in the legs can indicate circulatory problems elsewhere in the body, including the heart and the brain,” Dr. Jain notes. “Approximately 50 percent of patients who have PVD also have vascular blockages elsewhere in the body. People with PVD have a higher rate of early mortality. PVD also is a major reason for amputation of the legs.”

Diagnosing PVD can be as simple as performing a painless, non-invasive “Doppler” ultrasound investigation of the patient’s leg circulation.

“We have found that it is very valuable to screen for PVD and discern circulation problems in the legs,” says vascular surgeon John Thomas Mehigan, MD, FACS, medical co-director of Vascular Services and medical director of Off-site Community Education at Washington Hospital. “Because PVD can be related to multiple other conditions, screenings for PVD can give us important information about the patient’s whole health condition.”

For people in the community who might benefit from PVD screening – especially anyone over age 50 who is experiencing leg pain while walking or exercising – Washington Hospital will offer free ultrasound screenings of leg circulation on Saturday, June 6, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The screenings will be provided in the Conrad E. Anderson, MD Auditorium located in the Washington West Building at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont. Dr. Jain and Dr. Mehigan will be available to interpret the screening results. Individuals interested in the free screenings must sign up in advance by calling (800) 963-7070.

The risk factors for PVD are similar to those for heart disease and strokes:

  • Aging
  • Family history of cardiovascular disease
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol

People who have any of these risk factors for arterial disease should be screened for PVD, even if they are not experiencing any symptoms. In addition to Doppler ultrasound, screening for PVD might include a painless test called an ankle-brachial index that can be performed in the physician’s office to measure and compare the blood pressure in the arms and legs. When the blood pressure is significantly lower in one or both legs than in the arms, it may indicate PVD.

Additional testing might include angiogram imaging, with a contrast agent injected into the artery prior to taking an x-ray to show arteries in the legs and any blockages that may be present. Angiogram imaging may be combined with computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.

“When someone has PVD, the first line of treatment is to make lifestyle changes to lower the person’s risk factors,” says Dr. Jain. “Exercise is key, even though patients with PVD may not be inclined to exercise because of pain in their legs. Other lifestyle changes might include stopping smoking, controlling your blood pressure, improving your diet and managing blood sugar levels if you have diabetes. Various medications to control blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes also may be useful.”

If lifestyle changes and medications do not control a patient’s PVD, other treatments may be appropriate. For patients with pronounced PVD, treatment might include angioplasty, a non-surgical procedure in which a “balloon” is inserted to open up blocked arteries. Wire mesh tubes called stents also can be inserted non-surgically to keep arteries open. If the condition is more severe and the person has disabling pain, surgery might be considered to open up blocked arteries or to replace the blocked portion of an artery.

“The bottom line is that a simple cramp in your leg when you are walking may be related to other conditions that need to be diagnosed and treated,” says Dr. Mehigan. “Early treatment of PVD could not only help ease the pain in your legs, but it also may save your life. We want to help you and your primary care physician to understand and improve your overall health condition.”

If you are interested in the free sonogram leg screenings for PVD on June 6, you must sign up in advance by calling 800.963.7070.