Tired, Heavy Legs

    Legs with weights on the ankles icon

    Peripheral vascular disease (PVD) can produce various symptoms, depending on the disease state and its progression. A common symptom experienced is tired, heavy legs. When blood flow is interrupted in the legs, people may experience heaviness, swelling or general discomfort. A dull, diffuse ache or throbbing can accompany the heaviness, making it feel as though you are walking in cement shoes.

    Symptom Details

     

    At some point, most people experience tired, heavy legs—after a tough workout, during pregnancy, or after sitting for long periods of time. But when the discomfort becomes chronic and persistent, it may signify an underlying venous or arterial condition such as superficial venous insufficiency (SVI) or deep venous insufficiency (DVI), and to a lesser extent peripheral artery disease (PAD).

    Venous 3,4,5

     

    Similar to arterial conditions, venous disease can also produce leg discomfort. Common symptoms of SVI are a feeling of heaviness in the legs, aching, swelling, throbbing.3,4 The pain may be exacerbated after standing for long periods of time, but improves with elevation or by using compression stockings.

    • Throbbing pain throughout leg
    • Dull aching of the leg
    • Difficulty walking especially as the day progresses
    • The leg may become painful when standing
    • Swelling may develop
    • The heaviness may disappear when elevating legs
    • If the venous disease is superficial, varicose veins or spider veins may develop

    Arterial 1,2

     

    When the arteries are not able to pump blood efficiently, it can lead to pooling of blood in the legs and painful side effects.1 This pain and aching in the leg muscles may occur when walking or climbing stairs, making it feel as if you are walking with heavy weights on your legs. The throbbing can radiate throughout the leg, but generally stops when exercise or motion ceases.2

     

    • Legs that feel fatigued when walking
    • Exercise can bring on a dull aching
    • The aching can cause general discomfort
    • Heaviness and pain may go away when you stop walking
    • Legs feel like they are weighed down by sand

     

    These symptoms can range depending on the underlying PVD disease and how far it has progressed.

    If you are experiencing any of these symptoms consistently, it is important to take the step and seek help from your doctor. Early diagnosis and treatment can help to alleviate some of the discomfort and may help restore quality of life.

    Causes

     

    PVD diseases of the veins and arteries can lead to tired, heavy legs, but in different ways.
    Superficial veins have less muscle support than deep veins, so any condition that puts pressure on the legs or surrounding areas can lead to pooling of blood.

    Venous Causes

    Over time, legs can begin to feel tired because of the increased venous pressure when blood is not being returned efficiently to the heart.3 Standing for long periods of time may exacerbate the symptoms, making it difficult to move and go about normal activities by the end of the day.

    Arterial Causes

    When PVD is the result of arterial conditions, it is caused by fatty plaque build-up in the arteries. The plaque can harden and reduce the flow of blood to the limbs.1 As people walk, their leg muscles need more oxygen, which the body must work harder to deliver. This leads to the aching, heavy feeling experienced by many with PAD.

    Risk Factors

    Risk factor veins icon

    Tired, heavy legs can affect just about anyone. But some individuals have a higher risk of developing the symptom.

     

    These risk factors include:1,4

     

    • Pregnancy, which can put pressure on a woman’s pelvic area and surrounding veins and arteries
    • Obesity or being overweight can also put pressure on your legs and restrict healthy blood flow
    • Certain medical conditions such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes can increase the likelihood of developing arterial disease
    • Smoking can damage the veins and their ability to transport blood

    What to Look For

     

    Sometimes it can be difficult to tell one symptom from another. If you think you may have tired, heavy, legs it is important to take the step to consult a doctor to help you obtain acorrect diagnosis.

     

    Signs of heaviness in legs include:

     

    • Legs that feel like they are being weighed down when walking
    • A dull ache or cramping in the affected areas
    • Fatigue in the legs when walking or climbing stairs
    • For arterial conditions, the heaviness and pain may stop when resting
    • Swelling may occur and worsen as the day progresses with SVI
    • For venous conditions, the aches may go away with elevation
    • General discomfort in the legs that is persistent despite attempts to alleviate

    Associated Symptoms

    Varicose Veins

    Varicose veins can become inflamed when the pooling of blood results in pressure on the vein walls resulting in redness, swelling, and a diffuse pain.

    Claudication

    Pain, achiness or swelling occurs in the leg muscles when exercising or walking, but subsides at rest.

    Swelling

    Without adequate blood flow, extra fluid can begin to collect in the tissue, causing puffiness and swelling in one leg or both.

    When to See a Doctor

     

    Heaviness in the legs can signal PVD, which only progresses with time. If you are experiencing these symptoms, you should take the next step by talking to your doctor.

     

    If you do not have a doctor, you can use our tool to locate one nearby to get the help you need.

    Helpful Resources

    Checklist icon

    PVD Doctor
    Discussion Guide

     

    Get helpful tips and advice on how to talk to your doctor about a PVD screening.

    Third-Party Resources

    Apps


    CardioVisual

    A mobile app built by cardiologists, to simplify understanding of most cardiac and peripheral vascular conditions and treatments.

    Find a Doctor

     

    If you think you are experiencing exercise pain, it is important to get help. Talk to your doctor, or use our tool below to find a specialist near you.

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    1. “Peripheral Artery Disease.” National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. June 22, 2016.

    2. “Claudication.” Mayo Clinic. Jan. 31, 2015. Henke, P.

    3. “Chronic Venous Insufficiency.” Society for Vascular Surgery. n.d.

    4. “Venous insufficiency.” MedlinePLUS. U.S. National Library of Medicine. June 6, 2016.

    5. “Chronic Venous Insufficiency.” John Hopkins Medicine. n.d.

    Disclaimer

     

    The opinions and clinical experiences presented herein are for informational purposes only. Individual results may vary depending on a variety of patient-specific attributes and related factors. Dr. Raghu Kolluri has been compensated by Philips for his services in preparing and providing this material for Philips further use and distribution.

     

    We offer links to third-party websites that may be of interest to our website visitors and in no way, represent any affiliation or endorsement of the information provided on those linked websites. These links are provided solely for your convenience and to assist you in learning more information on this topic. However, Philips does not control, endorse or guarantee the accuracy of the information contained on the linked sites. In addition, Philips makes no representations or warranties of any kind with regards to any third-party websites or information contained therein. If you have any questions or concerns about the information on the linked third-party websites, please contact the third-party websites directly.

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