Connect with others who understand.

sign up log in
Resources
About MyHeartDiseaseTeam

Connect with others who understand.

sign up log in
Resources
About MyHeartDiseaseTeam

Leg Pain and Heart Disease: 5 Tips for Relief

Updated on September 14, 2022
Article written by
Anastasia Climan, RDN, CDN


Leg pain is a familiar and uncomfortable experience for many members of MyHeartDiseaseTeam. If you’ve dealt with different types of leg pain, you’re not alone. MyHeartDiseaseTeam members have described leg pain as extremely bothersome and sometimes debilitating.

One member shared, “I have experienced extreme crippling pain in my upper left thigh while sleeping at night. The pain was so severe and intense that I could not even stand up, much less walk.”

Here’s how others with heart disease manage leg pain, what the research says about possible causes, and ways to find relief.

What Causes Leg Pain in People With Heart Disease?

For people with heart disease, leg pain may be related to poor blood flow, medication side effects, lifestyle factors, or other issues, like an injury.

Claudication

For example, a condition called claudication produces muscle pain with movement. Pain caused by claudication comes and goes. Usually, pain is worse in the lower body, but it can also happen in the arms. The symptoms are triggered during movement (like walking) and subside during rest.

Claudication can be a symptom of peripheral artery disease, and restricted blood flow to the limbs, due to narrow arteries. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, peripheral artery disease affects 1 in every 20 people over age 50 and 1 out of 5 people over 70. In severe cases, the pain persists during rest, and other signs of poor circulation develop. These may include impaired wound healing, discolored skin, numbness, and skin that’s cool to the touch.

People with high cholesterol and high blood pressure are at higher risk for peripheral artery disease. Diabetes, smoking, and obesity also increase the risk. Because many of these risk factors go hand-in-hand with risks for cardiovascular disease, making heart-healthy lifestyle choices can benefit both conditions.

Deep Vein Thrombosis

If leg pain is accompanied by swelling, a serious condition called deep vein thrombosis (DVT) may be to blame. DVT occurs when there’s a blood clot in the veins. The associated pain can range from discomfort to deep throbbing pain. People with heart failure have an increased risk of DVT, as do those with certain genetic characteristics.

The biggest danger of DVT is if the clot dislodges and travels to the lungs. When a clot blocks blood vessels in the lungs, it produces a life-threatening event known as a pulmonary embolism. The complications of DVT are an example of why it’s crucial to share symptoms of leg pain with your health care provider, even if they don’t seem severe.

Statins

In other cases, leg pain isn’t the result of a heart condition but rather the medication used to treat heart disease. Statins are a group of drugs that lower “bad cholesterol,” effectively preventing several heart disease complications like strokes.

Unfortunately, some people experience negative side effects from statin medications that can include pain and cramps.

”I take a statin (Lipitor) and had leg and toe cramps. My provider told me to cut my statin in half and take a half pill every other night at bedtime. Cutting the pill helped some, but I still have leg pain,” one member shared. “I also started eating two bananas per day, one for breakfast and another at bedtime, which I think has helped with the cramps.”

About 15 percent to 20 percent of people on statins experience muscle problems like leg pain and cramping, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Sometimes, switching to a lower dose or trying a different medication can help. Additionally, lifestyle changes such as stretching and exercise may reduce muscle symptoms.

Other Causes

Leg cramps can have causes unrelated to heart health or statins. For example, they’re common among runners, pregnant people, and people who are sedentary or don’t stretch enough.

Other potential causes of leg pain include:

  • Arthritis or gout
  • Bone or skin infection
  • Dehydration or an electrolyte imbalance
  • Muscle fatigue from overexercising
  • Muscle strain or tear
  • Nerve damage
  • Stress fracture
  • Tendinitis (tendon inflammation)
  • Varicose veins

Various factors may cause leg pain. Until you meet with your doctor for a checkup, it’s difficult to know the root of the problem.

5 Treatment Options To Relieve Leg Pain

Your health care provider can recommend diagnostic tests to figure out what’s causing your leg pain. Treatment will be based on the cause. General recommendations may include elevating your leg, stretching, massaging, applying ice, or taking over-the-counter acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

1. Treat the Underlying Cause

If your leg pain is related to a specific health condition, your doctor can identify management options that are tailored to those conditions.

For peripheral artery disease, your doctor may recommend a supervised walking program to improve vascular health. They may also prescribe pain medication or other drugs to manage underlying factors like high cholesterol and high blood pressure. In severe cases, you may need angioplasty (surgery to widen the damaged artery) or vascular surgery to transplant a healthy vessel in place of the narrowed artery.

DVT treatments include anticoagulants (blood thinners) and compression stockings to prevent leg swelling. In more severe cases, thrombolytics are used to break up blockages, or a filter is placed in the vena cava (a large vein in the abdomen) to stop clots from reaching the lungs.

To improve circulation in people with chronic heart failure and coronary artery disease, researchers have tested enhanced external counterpulsation (EECP). The treatment involves applying pressure to blood vessels located in a person’s lower limbs. Studies have shown EECP can reduce swelling and nighttime leg pain. Currently, EECP is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as outpatient therapy for chronic stable angina (chest pain). Treatment is noninvasive and typically administered over seven weeks. EECP isn’t appropriate for everyone, but your cardiologist can review your medical history to determine if you’d be a good candidate.

2. Stay Active

Doctors often recommend regular exercise for claudication management, DVT prevention, and heart health in general. Unless your doctor says otherwise, it’s important to be active just about every day. If you’re dealing with severe leg pain, find out if you should begin a supervised walking program.

Walking is a simple and popular exercise option. “Feeling a bit under the weather today, but will go to the park for my daily walk,” one MyHeartDiseaseTeam member shared.

3. Stay Hydrated

Dehydration is a common cause of painful leg cramps. Unless you’re on a water restriction or diuretic, drinking plenty of water is an easy way to improve your health.

MyHeartDiseaseTeam members discuss how drinking water helps them, but switching from sweetened drinks to plain water can be tough. One member shared a success: “I completed my three-day drinking water challenge!!”

4. Try Over-the-Counter Pain Relief

Although you don’t want to rely on ibuprofen or acetaminophen all the time, taking these pain meds once in a while can help relieve leg pain and get you through the day. If you’re not sure whether they’re safe with your other medications, ask the pharmacist or your doctor.

5. Ask Your Doctor About Magnesium

MyHeartDiseaseTeam members swear by different foods, including dill pickle juice, mustard, tonic water, and bananas, to alleviate muscle pain and cramping. But perhaps one of the most talked-about remedies is a magnesium supplement. Supplementing your magnesium intake may be especially important if you’re taking a diuretic or are living with diabetes

One member explained, “I’m a chef, so I’m on my feet for about 13 hours a day. Another chef recommended magnesium and water. I started drinking more water, and it helped. Then I took over-the-counter magnesium, and it helped a lot. I rarely have painful cramps now.”

They also mentioned that magnesium could have unpleasant side effects: “Make sure your doctor is OK with you taking magnesium. It took me a while to get the dosage right. Too much or the wrong type of magnesium will give you diarrhea. But once it settled, the leg pain was long gone.”

Studies suggest magnesium supplements may reduce nighttime leg pain and offer additional benefits, like a better night’s sleep.

Discussing any new remedies with your health care provider is crucial when you have heart disease. Before you experiment, ensure there are no potential medication interactions or other harmful effects.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyHeartDiseaseTeam is the social network for people with heart disease and their loved ones. On MyHeartDiseaseTeam, more than 52,000 members come together to discuss life with heart disease and share their stories.

Have you experienced leg pain? What treatment options have you tried? Post your thoughts in the comments section or discuss this topic on your Activities Page.

    All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
    Larry A. Weinrauch, MD, FACC, FACP, FAHA is an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School with a focus on cardiovascular disease and clinical outcomes research. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
    Anastasia Climan, RDN, CDN is a dietitian with over 10 years of experience in public health and medical writing. Learn more about her here.

    Related articles

    One of the most common symptoms of heart disease is fatigue, often occurring with other symptoms...

    Fatigue and Heart Disease

    One of the most common symptoms of heart disease is fatigue, often occurring with other symptoms...
    Heart disease describes a range of heart conditions, including arrhythmias (abnormal heart...

    5 Symptoms of Heart Disease You Should Know

    Heart disease describes a range of heart conditions, including arrhythmias (abnormal heart...
    Heart disease refers to a group of many different conditions that affect the cardiovascular...

    Shortness of Breath and Heart Disease

    Heart disease refers to a group of many different conditions that affect the cardiovascular...
    People with atrial fibrillation, or AFib, have an increased risk of stroke. A stroke is a medical...

    Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) and Stroke: How To Recognize and Respond to a Stroke

    People with atrial fibrillation, or AFib, have an increased risk of stroke. A stroke is a medical...
    The past several weeks have been unprecedented in our lifetime. Social distancing, sheltering in...

    COVID-19 and Heart Disease: Are You At a Greater Risk?

    The past several weeks have been unprecedented in our lifetime. Social distancing, sheltering in...
    By Dennis Thompson, HealthDay ReporterWEDNESDAY, Oct. 24, 2018 (HealthDay News) -- Brisk autumn...

    Cold, Windy Days Can Strain the Heart

    By Dennis Thompson, HealthDay ReporterWEDNESDAY, Oct. 24, 2018 (HealthDay News) -- Brisk autumn...

    Recent articles

    Heart conditions are often treated with a combination of medications and lifestyle changes. In...

    7 Common Types of Heart Surgery

    Heart conditions are often treated with a combination of medications and lifestyle changes. In...
    If you have heart disease that leads to symptoms like an irregular heartbeat or heart rhythm,...

    7 Facts To Know About Pacemakers and Heart Disease

    If you have heart disease that leads to symptoms like an irregular heartbeat or heart rhythm,...
    Heart failure can be divided into four stages of severity, based on heart function.The symptoms...

    How Does Heart Failure Progress Over Time?

    Heart failure can be divided into four stages of severity, based on heart function.The symptoms...
    Ejection fraction (EF) is a measurement used to assess heart failure.Heart failure can be present...

    Ejection Fraction and Heart Failure: What Does It Mean?

    Ejection fraction (EF) is a measurement used to assess heart failure.Heart failure can be present...
    With marijuana (cannabis) becoming legalized more and more in the United States, its recreational...

    Is Smoking Marijuana Bad for Your Heart?

    With marijuana (cannabis) becoming legalized more and more in the United States, its recreational...
    When you’re diagnosed with an illness like cardiovascular disease (better known as heart...

    5 Foods To Eat With Heart Disease

    When you’re diagnosed with an illness like cardiovascular disease (better known as heart...
    MyHeartDiseaseTeam My heart disease Team

    Thank you for subscribing!

    Become a member to get even more:

    sign up for free

    close