Leg pain and chest pain do not typically occur together. However, there is a connection between leg pain and heart health, so a person may experience both of these symptoms at the same time.
If a person is experiencing chest pain, they should seek medical attention immediately as it may indicate a heart attack.
In this article, we explore the link between leg pain and heart health. We also look at diagnosis, treatment, and when to seek help.
Peripheral artery disease
Sometimes, leg pain can indicate that a person is at risk of developing heart disease.
Peripheral artery disease (PAD) occurs when the peripheral arteries become narrow, and fatty deposits start to build up.
According to the findings of a 2014 study, people with PAD have a higher lifetime risk of dying from a cardiovascular event.
The most common symptom of PAD is painful muscle cramps in the thighs, hips, or calves when a person is exercising, walking, or climbing stairs.
Other symptoms include:
- poor nail growth
- erectile dysfunction
- a decrease in temperature in the lower leg or feet
- wounds on the feet or toes that heal slowly
Pain after cardiac surgery
It is normal to experience pain after cardiac surgery. Sometimes, people also report experiencing leg pain after cardiac surgery. This pain usually occurs if surgeons take a vein graft from the leg.
According to researchers, moderate-to-severe chronic pain still affects 11.8% of people 12 months after cardiac surgery.
While pain following cardiac surgery is typical, a person should talk to a doctor if the pain seems to be getting worse instead of better over time, or if it remains severe.
A doctor will consider all of a person's symptoms when diagnosing potential causes of pain.
If a person is experiencing significant levels of pain after surgery, and the pain is persistent, they should talk to a doctor.
They should also talk to a doctor if they experience symptoms of infection after surgery, such as warmth, redness, swelling, or drainage from the incision sites.
Doctors will diagnose PAD by carrying out a physical examination, which may include:
- Ankle-brachial index test: Blood pressure measurements in the arm and ankle can indicate potential blockages.
- Doppler and ultrasound imaging: This method shows the arteries using sound waves and measures the flow of the blood.
- Imaging studies of the heart's blood vessels: These include CT scans and angiography.
If a person is experiencing chest pain, a doctor will first try to establish whether they have had a heart attack.
A doctor may perform a variety of tests to diagnose a heart attack, including:
- electrocardiogram (EKG)
- CT scan
- exercise stress test
A doctor may also take blood tests to check whether the levels of certain enzymes that indicate that the heart is under stress have become elevated.
Treatment and prevention
The type of treatment for chest and leg pain will depend on the underlying cause.
Treatment for PAD tends to focus on preventing the disease from progressing and reducing the symptoms.
People can help prevent and treat PAD by:
- eating a healthful diet
- exercising regularly
- quitting smoking
- taking high blood pressure medication, if a doctor has prescribed it
Pain after cardiac surgery
As pain after surgery might affect a person's recovery, the doctor may prescribe a combination of pain relievers, including opioids and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS).
A doctor may also use other treatment methods, such as transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation and regional anesthesia.
If a person has developed an infection at the surgical site, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics after cleaning the wound.
If a person has experienced a heart attack, a doctor may consider a variety of treatments, including:
When to seek help
People experiencing chest pain, leg pain, or both should speak to a doctor in the following situations.
A person should see a doctor if they experience any symptoms of PAD.
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, even if a person is not experiencing symptoms of PAD, they should still see a doctor if they are:
- under 50 years of age and have diabetes and one or more risk factors for atherosclerosis, which include high blood pressure and obesity
- are aged 50 years or older and have a history of diabetes or smoking
- are aged 70 years or older
Pain after cardiac surgery
A person should see a doctor if they are experiencing symptoms of infection following cardiac surgery, or if the pain does not lessen.
New-onset chest pain is almost always a concerning symptom, and a person should not ignore it. If they experience chest pain, they should seek emergency medical attention.
The symptoms of a heart attack can vary among individuals, but a person may experience:
- pressure or pain in the chest or upper portion of the stomach
- pain in the arms, back, or stomach that can go downward
- shortness of breath
- unexplained and extreme fatigue
Chest pain and leg pain are two symptoms that do not typically appear together. However, they can co-occur if a surgeon takes a vein graft from a person's leg as part of cardiac surgery or if a person has peripheral artery disease.
A person should see a doctor if they have chest pain or persistent or severe leg pain.
Even if a person is not experiencing a cardiac event, they may require medical treatment to reduce their symptoms and prevent the likelihood of their medical condition worsening.