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Claudication refers to pain in the thigh, calf, and/or buttocks that occurs when walking and may cause you to limp. It may be a symptom of peripheral arterial disease (PAD).
At first, the pain of claudication occurs with a predictable amount of walking and disappears at rest. As the disease gets worse, the distance you can walk before pain develops may decrease. In time, you may no longer be able to walk because the pain is unbearable.
Because claudication is associated with disease conditions that also increase the risk for heart attack or stroke, you also need assessment and possible treatment of artery disease in other areas of the body.
Peripheral arterial disease is very common especially in people over the age of 50. PAD is caused by a narrowing or blockage of arteries in the legs or in the aorta, which may cause decreased blood flow to the muscles of the calf, thigh, or buttocks. This decreased blood flow may cause the pain that leads to claudication.
The blockage is usually a result of atherosclerosis. This is the build-up of plaque, which is a deposit of fatty substances, cholesterol, cellular waste products, calcium, and fibrin in the inner lining of an artery. This is the same process that can affect heart arteries and lead to chest pain or heart attack.
Blockages in the leg are most common in the thigh and behind the knee but may also occur at other sites in the body including the aorta, groin, or abdomen. You can have more than one blockage.
Risk factors for claudication are the same as those for atherosclerosis, and include:
Knowing your risk factors to any disease can help to guide you into the appropriate actions, including changing behaviors and seeing your doctor.
Claudication itself is a symptom of a narrowing or blockage of an artery.
Typical characteristics of claudication include:
The symptoms related to claudication may look like other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.
Diagnosis focuses on identifying narrowing of arteries in the lower extremities. In addition to a complete medical history and physical exam, other tests for claudication may include:
Specific treatment will be determined by your doctor based on:
Claudication is usually treated first with lifestyle changes to modify the risk factors for peripheral arterial disease. Medication and surgery may be needed in some cases. Treatment may include:
For severe cases, such as when blood flow has been completely or almost completely blocked a procedure or surgery may be needed. This may include:
In very few cases, when all other treatments have not been effective, the limb may need to be amputated. People who smoke or who have diabetes are at increased risk amputation.
Atherosclerosis that causes claudication in the legs can also affect the blood vessels of the heart and brain. For this reason, it is important to aggressively modify your risk factors for atherosclerosis to prevent claudication as well as heart attack and stroke.
Preventative measures may include:
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