Cholesterol can also affect the legs

Cholesterol can clog the heart’s blood vessels, but it can also affect the legs, leading to peripheral arterial disease, or PAD.

Up to 12 million people in the U.S. have PAD, which is linked to a higher risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke, says David Slovut, MD, director of advanced interventional therapy at Montefiore Medical Center.

After five years, 20% of people with PAD will have had a nonfatal heart attack.

Here are 11 signs you could have PAD. The good news? It’s treatable.

 

An extremely common PAD symptom is claudication, a type of leg pain or discomfort.

Because the arteries are clogged, they can’t deliver enough blood to the legs to support exertion. Some people say their legs feel “heavy” or tired, or they report a burning pain, Dr. Slovut says.

The pain can be in any part of the leg, from the calf to the thigh or buttock, and it may be in one or both legs. It’s also reproducible: The pain happens when walking a certain distance (like two blocks), it’s relieved by rest, and then occurs again when walking the same distance.

 

Nighttime cramps

While sleeping, people with PAD may get cramps or spasms, typically in the heel, forefoot, or toes, says Darren Schneider, MD, director of the Center for Vascular and Endovascular Surgery at New York–Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

The pain can often be relieved by dangling the foot off the bed or sitting in a chair, which allows gravity to assist blood flow to the feet, Dr. Schneider says.