Intermittent claudication usually occurs in leg muscles, making them feel cramped, achy, tired, and painful. Although in its early stages, some people only feel a sense of weakness in the legs while walking or tiredness in buttocks muscles. The pain develops when you’re active and goes away when you’re resting. However, as claudication worsens, it may occur when you’re at rest. Claudication may also develop in the arms, but it’s more common in the legs.
While several medical conditions can cause intermittent claudication, it’s usually a symptom of peripheral artery disease. Peripheral artery disease is a type of atherosclerosis that occurs in blood vessels supplying the legs or arms. Atherosclerosis develops when cholesterol sticks to blood vessel walls. The resulting plaque hardens the artery wall while also blocking the flow of blood. Lack of blood means muscles don’t get enough oxygen, which causes the pain and tiredness of intermittent claudication.
Intermittent claudication can occur in one or both legs, depending on where blood flow is blocked. It’s a common condition that tends to develop as you get older, but you can lower your chance of developing claudication if you take steps to avoid these risk factors:
Untreated intermittent claudication can progress and cause serious complications due to blocked blood flow. When this happens, pain worsens and you may develop sores on your legs, feet, or toes. In severe case, ulcers or sores increase the risk of amputation.
Intermittent claudication is treated with lifestyle changes and medication. In some cases, surgery to clear blocked arteries is needed. It’s essential to stop smoking and to make other changes that help reduce cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar. Your doctor at Consultants in Cardiology & Electrophysiology may recommend eating more fiber, eliminating added sugar, and starting a regular exercise program, even if it’s simply walking.
Medications may be prescribed to directly treat the claudication, such as drugs that widen arteries or thin blood to promote better blood flow. Drugs that treat other underlying conditions, such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure, may be included in your treatment plan. Depending on the amount of atherosclerosis, your doctor may recommend clearing the plaque and inserting a stent to keep the artery open.