University of Alberta in Edmonton researchers have found that the nagging pain in the legs while walking is a strong marker for heart disease and stroke.
Hence, they're urging people over the age of 40 to get a simple test for peripheral artery disease (PAD).
"PAD is a serious heart disease. It's a strong marker for heart disease and stroke," The Globe and Mail quoted Ross Tsuyuki, a professor of medicine at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, as saying.
The diagnostic test consists of measuring blood pressure in the leg as well as in the arm, then comparing the two. If blood pressure in the leg is 90 per cent or less than in the arm, a person likely has PAD.
PAD is caused by narrowing of the arteries that supply blood to the legs, and it's usually a strong indication that similar problems are occurring in the arteries of the heart and brain.
Blocked arteries, either from a build-up of plaque or a blood clot can, trigger a heart attack or stroke.
The symptoms of PAD include leg cramps while walking or exercising, coldness or numbness in both legs, and leg sores that don't heal.
Tsuyuki said the pain experienced by people with PAD is often likened to chest pain from the heart. That's why PAD is sometimes called "angina in the legs."
People at highest risk are current or former smokers, people with diabetes, and those with other risk factors for heart disease and stroke such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
But many people have no, or very mild, symptoms, or they dismiss the leg pain as an inevitable by-product of aging.
Tsuyuki said it's a mistake not to take leg pain seriously.
For the study, the researchers tested 362 volunteers over the age of 50 and discovered 17 cases of PAD. That works out to almost 5 per cent of those tested, quite a high rate for a screening test, though the sample was not a random one.
Tsuyuki noted that virtually all the patients with PAD were unaware they had arterial problems.
The research was presented Monday at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress in Edmonton.