Intermittent Claudication

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Cramping, “on-again, off-again” leg pain brought on by walking. Intermittent claudication is a symptom of peripheral vascular disease, in which atherosclerosis clogs blood vessels throughout the body. Peripheral vascular disease is 20 times more common in people with diabetes than it is in the general population.

When the blood supply to the legs is blocked, the muscles don’t get enough blood, which causes the painful cramping sensation associated with intermittent claudication. It most commonly affects the calf muscles but may also occur in the thighs or buttocks, depending on which arteries are blocked. These symptoms are usually brought on by walking or other exercise involving the leg, and they tend to go away after a few minutes of rest. As peripheral vascular disease progresses, the pain may occur after shorter and shorter periods of walking, and may eventually occur even at rest.

Fortunately, if you have intermittent claudication, there are a number of measures you and your doctor can take to alleviate it. One is to stop smoking if you smoke. Another is to embark on a walking program under the supervision of your doctor. This generally involves walking until the pain starts, resuming when it stops, and gradually increasing the distance that you walk. Ideally, you should build up to 30 to 45 minutes of walking daily.

If these measures don’t work, there are drugs that may help, including pentoxifylline (brand name Trental) and cilostazol (Pletal), both of which facilitate blood flow by helping to keep blood platelets from clumping together.

Originally Published June 13, 2006

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