If your legs feel heavy often, it could be a sign of vascular disease. This is not just a sign of getting older, it can be a serious circulation problem and can be life threatening. Vascular disease of the lower extremities can be either arterial or venous. While both are serious the more life threatening of the two is peripheral arterial disease. University Surgical Vascular treats both vascular conditions, however they often have opposite symptoms.
PVD (Peripheral Vascular Disease) is a common circulatory problem that affects about one in every five people over the age of 50. Symptoms include pain in the legs or the legs feeling very heavy when you walk or climb upstairs. After some rest the symptoms go away. What is going on is that the blood vessels are constricted due to a stenosis or blockage in the arteries. The restriction of oxygen rich blood prevents oxygen from reaching the muscles. The individual will feel a cramping sensation in the muscles and usually stop walking. The body relaxes and the distal muscles slowly receive the oxygen they need and then the pain goes away, until you walk again. Arterial disease symptoms are repeatable. You don't have good days and bad days, usually the symptoms occur the same everyday during the same activities. A great example is when getting the mail from the mail box, if you have to stop halfway back. .
Venous disease is more vague in that you may be more symptomatic during certain activities and less symptomatic during others. Venous symptoms usually occur when the patient or individual is either stagnant, standing for long periods of time or when traveling. The legs swell due to increased venous pooling and the increased venous pressure causes discomfort around the ankles and fatigue in the legs. Cramping at night is very common as waste products are not properly exiting the lower extremities due to the venous insufficiency.
Many venous patients will say that their legs will swell within a couple of hours of being on their feet. Medical compression can help prevent the swelling, however once they are removed blood flow will continue to pool in the ankles and legs. Elevation of the lower legs also helps elevate the pain and pressure from venous disease. While these things provide temporary relief they do not address the underlying problem and often are not performed without interruption of daily activities.
Standing or sitting for hours at a time without getting up and walking around can cause blood to pool in your legs and feet. This isn’t a serious condition, it happens only because you are not moving around. You might notice that your feet are swollen and legs feel stiff and heavy. Just walking around gets your blood flowing again and the problem is solved.