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Leg Pain When Walking? Take Aspirin, Walk More, Study Shows


People whose legs ache when they walk because of blocked leg arteries can get just as much relief -- if not more -- by taking a low-dose aspirin instead of Plavix and taking daily walks.

Leg cramps and pain are classic symptoms of blocked or poor blood flow -- officially called Peripheral Artery Disease or PAD. PAD affects some 8 million Americans, including an estimated 12 to 20 percent of those over age 65.

Because those with PAD are at an increased risk for stroke or heart attack, treatment typically includes a blood-thinner to reduce the chance of clots traveling from from the legs to the heart or brain.

Walking is also important for PAD patients because it can help increase blood flow to the legs by stimulating the growth of tiny blood vessels to relieve the blockage.

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A recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that taking low-dose aspirin was just as effective as the more expensive prescription drug Plavix for reducing leg pain when combined with a regular walking program.

Swiss researchers randomly assigned 229 older patients with PAD, average age 66, to receive either low-dose aspirin or Plavix and to walk an hour daily.

After 12 weeks, those taking aspirin could walk 35 percent farther and longer without pain. Those taking Plavix had similar improvement -- meaning that the cheaper aspirin was just as effective.

What the study also showed is the importance of exercise in treating PAD.

"Exercise is key and it doesn't matter how you treat the underlying condition, exercise is always going to help," cardiologist Juan Zambrano, M.D., of the University of Miami told HealthDay.

Many people may not recognize that they have PAD, mistaking intermittent leg pain and cramps for a muscular problem.

PAD can also be linked to other symptoms, such as erectile dysfunction in men.

Consider getting checked for PAD if you have some of these symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic:

  • Painful cramping in your hip, thigh or calf muscles after activity, such as walking or climbing stairs
  • Leg numbness or weakness
  • Coldness in your lower leg or foot
  • Sores on your toes, feet or legs that won't heal
  • A change in the color of your legs
  • Leg pain that disrupts sleep, but is relieved by walking around
  • Slower growth of your toenails
  • Shiny skin on your legs

In other health news:

Apple slices recalled due to listeria danger. Sliced apples distributed to fast-food and grocery chains across the country are being recalled due to possible listeria contamination, USA Today reports. Packaged apple slices distributed to McDonald's and Burger King in some states are included in the recall, as are some packaged fruit, veggies, salads and sandwiches containing apples distributed to Wawa convenience store and Wegman's grocery chains, as well as various apple and fruit snacks with "Ready Pac" labels and apple salad kits with a "Safeway Farms" label.

Can daily aspirin ward off cancer? Reuters reports on a new study that bolsters the case that daily aspirin may help protect against cancer, although the effect seems weaker than previously thought.

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