Experiencing Leg Cramps? Here Are the Potential Causes

Blog Post
By South Valley Vascular
December 6, 2022

We’ve all experienced the occasional Charley Horse. They are relatively common and mostly harmless. However, they can interfere with daily tasks. Painful leg cramps impact our ability to walk, travel, or participate in activities. 

Leg cramps, alongside leg pain can be a symptom of many things, from lifestyle factors to serious health conditions. For example, too much high-intensity exercise, tobacco use, excessive alcohol consumption, and an unbalanced diet can cause leg cramps. Other causes can be attributed to underlying health conditions such as kidney or thyroid disease, adrenal or venous insufficiency, and diabetes. Because there is a wide variety of leg cramp causes, it’s essential to talk to a medical professional to relieve a proper diagnosis and subsequent treatment plan.  

Peripheral Artery Disease & Cramps In Legs

Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) is a condition that can cause cramps in the legs. A narrowing of the blood vessels characterizes it. This narrowing is caused by an accumulation of plaque (a substance made up of fat and cholesterol). The fatty buildup in the arteries is called atherosclerosis. PAD can occur in any blood vessel, but it is most common in the legs.

People who suffer from chronic diseases that affect the vascular system are at increased risk of PAD. For example, people with diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol need to be careful if they are experiencing leg cramps or any other symptoms of vascular stress. 

One of the most common symptoms of PAD is pain and cramping brought on by walking or exercising. This is called claudication. These painful cramps can be located in the hips, calves, or thighs. For some patients, the pain is manageable and subsides after resting. However, other patients experience more severe pain that can significantly affect ambulation. 

Other symptoms that people with peripheral artery disease experience include: 

  • Coldness in the legs or feet
  • Leg numbness
  • Weakness in legs 
  • Achiness in legs 
  • Weak pulse in legs 
  • The appearance of shiny skin on the legs
  • Skin discoloration on the legs 
  • The slow growth of the toenails
  • Sores that are slow to heal 
  • Erectile dysfunction in men 
  • Hair loss on the legs 

Many times, people with PAD will be asymptomatic. However, if you experience any of these symptoms or a combination, it’s best to let your doctor know. Previously, we discussed Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) treatments, so you can read it for more information.

When To Worry About Leg Cramps 

While leg cramps can be from something as simple as dehydration, there are times when you should take them more seriously. If you are wondering when to worry about leg cramps, experts recommend carrying a proactive approach. Any concerns should be addressed by your doctor sooner than later. Peripheral artery disease caused by atherosclerosis can have significant complications if left untreated. These include:

  • Critical limb ischemia — a condition that causes tissue to die. Symptoms include open sores on the limbs that don't heal. If the limb ischemia is severe, amputation of the affected limb might be necessary. 
  • Stroke and heart attack. Plaque buildup in the arteries can affect the blood flow to the heart and brain.

The best line of defense in preventing leg pain due to peripheral artery disease is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. You should avoid tobacco products and foods that are high in saturated fat. Regular exercise is key to vascular health, as well. You should always check with your doctor before starting any exercise regimen. 

Patients suffering from peripheral artery disease can seek effective treatment options at South Valley Vascular. The healthcare providers have provided a suite of vascular surgery services for nearly twenty years. Fill out our contact form to schedule a consultation today!