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Definition of Intermittent Claudication
Intermittent Claudication is pain in the lower legs that occurs with physical activity such as walking. Intermittent claudication is the primary symptom of peripheral vascular disease (pvd), which is atherosclerosis that affects the arteries of the legs.
The atherosclerotic accumulations of PVD occlude (block) blood flow through the arteries, limiting their ability to respond to the increased oxygen need of the leg muscles during exercise. The insufficient oxygen causes pain that is typically severe enough to stop the activity. Resting relieves the pain and the person can resume the activity.
People who have intermittent claudication typically develop a pattern of walking and resting that accommodates their symptoms. About 60 percent of people who have intermittent claudication have it in both legs.
Cigarette smoking, diabetes, and lack of physical exercise are the leading causes of PVD and intermittent claudication. The PVD that causes intermittent claudication most often affects the popliteal artery, which branches from the femoral artery and drops behind the knee to supply the lower leg with blood.
The most effective treatment is consistent exercise such as walking. Doctors recommend a progressive approach that begins with walking until pain forces rest, several times every day, and trying to extend the time by a few minutes every week.
The regular physical activity conditions the leg muscles, improving the efficiency with which they use oxygen and decreasing oxygen demand. Most people who have PVD and intermittent claudication also take medications to decrease the blood’s clotting tendencies, such as aspirin therapy or anticoagulation medications such as clopidogrel (Plavix) or warfarin (Coumadin).
These methods cannot eliminate intermittent claudication though they can reduce its severity.