PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Pain while walking and cramping in your legs could be a sign of a pretty serious condition, but there could be a relatively simple solution to fix it.
Jim Holmes is going for a short walk, but has to sit down because of his legs.
“They feel really thick. You know what I mean? And the problem is, I’m not getting enough oxygen down to the muscles,” he says.
Holmes has a problem called Peripheral Arterial Disease.
“Stairs, I walk up steps and my legs hurt so bad I have to sit down. You know, right away, I have to sit down,” says Holmes. “I can’t stand more than 10 minutes.”
A buildup of plaque blocks the arteries in the arms and legs. Less blood flows to the muscles. This leads to the typical symptoms.
“Cramping in the legs, pain when you’re walking, and even inability to walk as far as you’d like to,” says Dr. Travis Wilson, of the cardiology department at Canonsburg Hospital.
Lucky for Holmes, studies show a program that’s good for the heart is also good for the arteries.
It’s supervised aerobic exercise, three times a week for three months, and includes help with food choices.
Dr. Wilson says it should be more aptly called cardio-vascular rehab.
“In some studies, it has been shown that you can actually halt the progress of disease, that you can have reduction in the buildup of plaque,” Dr. Wilson said. “After patients participate in cardiovascular rehab, they sometimes they can walk further, they can do more of what they want to do, they can live the more active lifestyle that we know will overall improve their health.”
Turns out, it is now being covered by insurance for peripheral arterial disease.
“They have to get it okayed through the insurance, if they’ll pay for it. And Dr. Wilson thinks that they will. So that’ll be a good thing,” Holmes said.
Holmes would otherwise be proceeding to stents or surgery, both risky in his case. The preferred route is rehab, and he would like to start soon.
In some cases, it had been hard to find a nearby program, but they are becoming more commonplace, for example, there’s one at Canonsburg Hospital.
“The expense is not terrific, you’re not taking another pill, you’re not being subjected to any sort of invasive procedure, it’s something that you can do on a daily basis,” said Dr. Wilson.
If someone has ongoing tissue damage from decreased blood flow, medicine, stents, or surgery may be the better option.
Holmes is glad to have a program just five minutes from his house.
KDKA’s Dr. Maria Simbra: “What do you hope the cardiac rehab will do for you?”
Holmes: “Ease the pain in my legs, get the blood flowing better.”
“Even though you might be finished with that three-month program, you’ll continue to live that healthy lifestyle, and the benefits of that will be endless,” Dr. Wilson said.