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Leg Cramps Like Clockwork

If you get bad leg cramps, it could be a sign of serious heart disease.

legs running on the beach at sunset

Photo: Naama Ym (Flickr)

There's a big difference between muscles cramping during a strenuous workout, and the cramping caused by decreased blood flow to the leg.

Heart disease is caused by the buildup of cholesterol-filled plaque inside arteries in the heart, decreasing blood flow to the heart muscle. However, arteries in the heart aren’t the only ones that can get blocked.

Oxygen-Rich

Arteries in the legs can also become narrowed or blocked by plaque, decreasing blood flow to the legs. That can result in wounds that won’t heal or dead tissue, requiring amputation. However, long before that, the person may notice they can’t get around like they used to.

When you walk, the leg muscles require more oxygen-rich blood. If arteries in the legs become narrowed, not enough blood reaches the muscles and cramps result.

Working Out And Cramps

There’s a big difference between muscles cramping during a strenuous workout, and the cramping caused by decreased blood flow to the leg. That starts when the person starts walking, then stops when they rest. Start walking again, and the pain starts again, like clockwork.

Getting screened for decreased blood flow is easy, and painless. A health care provider takes your blood pressure in your arms and legs. If it’s much lower in the leg, that could indicate narrowing of an artery and you’d need more tests.

Treatment is similar to treatment for heart disease. For mild cases, an exercise plan or aspirin may help. For more serious cases, a balloon inserted in the artery can open the blockage, and there’s even bypass surgery in the leg.

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