Leg pain at night may be a warning sign of vascular disease, but it could also be a sign of an underlying medical condition that needs accurate diagnosis. If you think peripheral artery disease is causing your leg pain, do not put off seeing a specialist for testing and treatment options. Schedule an appointment with Dr. Sergei A. Sobolevsky at Downtown Vein & Vascular Center to learn more about your symptoms and the reasons behind them. Dr. Sobolevsky is an endovascular specialist and recommends minimally invasive treatments to ease your pain, improve mobility and reduce your risk of developing serious complications.
If leg pain at night is not letting you sleep, or affecting your quality of rest, it is probably something more than aging. Pain in your legs and feet, particularly at night, could be a warning sign of peripheral artery disease, a type of vascular disease that can turn life-threatening if it is not diagnosed, and treated timely.
It is best to reach out to your healthcare provider as soon as you notice leg pain at night. The sooner you get diagnosed, the sooner the specialist can start with the treatment and ease the recurring pain and other symptoms. A blockage in the leg can be as dangerous as a blockage in the heart.
What May Cause Leg Pain and Aching Legs at Night?
Potential causes of leg pain include varicose veins, injury, infection, and disease. Peripheral artery disease is considered a primary cause of pain or cramps in the legs. Your legs hurt as the arteries become narrow due to the buildup of plaque or atherosclerosis, limiting blood flow to the muscles in the legs and feet.
In such a condition, the muscles do not function as they should, and lack of adequate oxygen and nutrients causes pain in the legs when you walk or exercise. If left untreated, atherosclerosis can worsen, and you may begin to experience pain even if you are lying down. It does not only affect your normal movements but also prevents you from having a good night’s sleep.
Peripheral Artery Disease and Leg Pain
The leg pain or muscle cramping caused by PAD is claudication. Symptoms of claudication are triggered by activities, such as walking or climbing stairs which often subside if you stop and rest for a few minutes. Some people only experience pain during the daytime, while others have pain while they are resting or at night.
Nighttime pain could be a sign of the worst form of PDA, critical limb ischemia (CLI). With CLI, the pain in your legs or feet can last for minutes or hours. Persistent leg pain at night indicates a serious condition, and only a healthcare provider can help you with accurate diagnosis and treatment.
Leg pain resulting from peripheral artery disease can occur anywhere in your leg, but the muscles of your calf, thigh, or buttocks are the most affected areas. This pain can range from mild to so severe that you may find it difficult to stand and walk, even a short distance.
What Is Peripheral Artery Disease?
Peripheral artery disease, also called peripheral arterial disease, is a circulatory condition in which the blood vessels or arteries that carry blood from the heart to the legs become narrow. The narrowing or blockage of the arteries is primarily caused by the buildup of fatty plaque in the arteries, which is called atherosclerosis.
The blocked arteries reduce blood flow to the legs or arms, most commonly to the extremities, the legs, and the feet. As the legs and feet do not receive sufficient blood flow to keep up with the demand, it causes leg pain when walking and other symptoms. PAD is a progressive disease and needs timely treatment. Lack of medical attention can lead to painful or uncomfortable symptoms that impact your daily activities.
Causes of Peripheral Artery Disease
PAD is caused by atherosclerosis, the accumulation of fats, cholesterol, and other substances in and on the artery walls. Narrowing or hardening of arteries is a serious condition. It can lead to coronary artery disease, resulting in heart attack and PAD, leading to amputation of a limb or even death if it turns severe.
Less common causes of peripheral artery disease include:
- Blood vessel inflammation
- Injury to the arms or legs
- Changes in the muscles or ligaments
- Exposure to radiation
What Is Atherosclerosis?
Atherosclerosis is a condition in which fatty deposits collect inside the arteries, and create blockages. These blockages are made up of fats and cholesterol, and other substances known as plaque. As plaque continues to build up in the artery, the walls of the blood vessels begin to thicken, affecting the flow of blood. It can also burst, leading to a blood clot.
The exact causes of what causes atherosclerosis are still not certain, but healthcare experts believe that damaged arteries can lead to plaque formation.
Arteries can get damaged due to:
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
Atherosclerosis can affect arteries throughout the body. It is important to remember that when you have atherosclerosis in the arteries leading to your legs, you probably have it in the vessels leading to your heart and brain. Talk to your healthcare provider about treatment options for atherosclerosis that causes lower leg pain and upper leg pain and how to lower your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Other Signs of PAD
Leg pain is not the only symptom of PAD. There are several others signs too that could indicate if your leg pain at night is resulting from peripheral artery disease.
- Cramping or aching after walking or climbing stairs that subside with rest
- Numbness or weakness in your legs
- A cold feeling in your lower leg or foot
- Sores that won’t heal on your legs, feet, or toes
- A weak pulse in your ankles or legs
- Shiny skin or a bluish tint to your legs
- Loss of hair on your legs
- Slow growing toenails
Knowing the warning signs of PAD can help you better determine your condition and seek appropriate treatment.
Like other cardiovascular conditions, you can make efforts to manage PAD with the following:
- Quit smoking if you smoke
- Follow the exercise plan as recommended by your doctor
- Keep your cholesterol levels low
- Eat a balanced, healthy diet with more foods low in saturated fats
- Avoid taking over-the-counter cold medications that include pseudoephedrine, as they constrict blood vessels and may increase artery blockage
Your doctor may also recommend medications or minimally invasive procedures to open a severely blocked artery and stop the progression of the disease. You must not delay seeing your doctor if you suspect any unusual symptoms or pain. Identifying PAD timely can lower your risk of heart attack or stroke and save your limbs.
When to See a Doctor for Leg Pain at Night?
It is best to visit a doctor for vascular diseases as soon as possible if you experience persistent leg pain at night. Before you start experiencing pain in the legs while lying down, you may notice that your legs ache even when you do simple activities, such as going for a walk or climbing a flight of stairs. If this pain subsides once you have stopped the activity, you may be experiencing intermittent claudication, a classic sign of PAD.
If claudication has progressed to the point that it is causing constant pain, even when you are lying down, you must seek immediate medical attention. PAD is easy to diagnose. Effective treatment can relieve leg pain at night and significantly reduce or even eliminate the risks of severe and lasting complications.
If you think your nighttime leg pain is a sign of vascular disease, it is best to speak to an expert. Dr. Sergei A. Sobolevsky is an experienced top endovascular specialist with extensive expertise in Image-Guided Minimally Invasive Medicine and Vascular and Interventional Radiology. He uses advanced diagnostic methods to determine if PAD is the reason behind your aching legs and comes up with safe and effective vein treatment options to lower your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Sergei Sobolevsky, MD, is a leading specialist in endovascular medicine with experience in vascular and interventional radiology. Dr. Sobolevsky has decades of experience in the field, with over 25,000 procedures performed, accumulating extensive experience in image-guided minimally invasive medicine, diagnosing and treating a range of conditions.
Dr. Sobolevsky earned his Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree in 1997 from the University of Colorado School of Medicine. He received his specialty clinical training in vascular and interventional radiology at Harvard University. Later, he earned his MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management. Recognized as a Castle Connolly Top Doctor and named to the Top Doctors New York Metro Area in 2020, 2021, and 2022, Dr. Sobolevsky is licensed in multiple states, has delivered presentations at numerous institutions in the US and abroad, and now acts as a clinical advisor for the biomedical industry. He also held multiple positions in the field during his career, including Chief of Vascular and Interventional Radiology at the Columbia University Medical Center in New York, NY, Senior Vice President in Clinical and Regulatory Affairs at Artann Laboratories in North Brunswick, NJ, and Medical Director at the American Endovascular and Amputation Prevention Center in Brooklyn.More About Dr. Sobolevsky