Intermittent claudication is characterized by an asymmetrical and irregular gait caused by leg pain. This pain is the result of physical activity such as walking and disappears after a few minutes rest.
Arteries carry oxygen-rich blood (purified) to the limbs. Occasionally, the blood has more difficulty reaching the limbs. Intermittent claudication occurs when blood does not adequately flow through the legs. This leads to decreased oxygen in the leg muscles which causes cramping and pain. Since the leg tissues do not receive sufficient oxygen, the body is less able to fight infections and sores on the lower limbs.
Persons most at risk
Certain groups are more prone to suffering from intermittent claudication. Smokers, diabetics, the elderly and persons with hypertension and hypercholesterolemia have a greater risk of developing intermittent claudication.
The most common symptoms are:
- Pain in the calf, thigh, buttock, foot or hip that disappears with rest
- Cold feet or feeling of cold elsewhere on the legs
- Cramps and muscle fatigue
- Sores or infections that are slow to heal
It is recommended that you see your physician if you experience any of the above mentioned symptoms.
There are several means by which a physician can diagnose this disease. Firstly, he can take the blood pressure in the heel and compare it to that of the arm. This will enable him to assess how much blood is flowing in the legs. He can also use a Doppler ultrasound to record the sound of the blood flowing through the vessels. This is useful for assessing whether there has been a narrowing of the arteries. And lastly, he can perform an arteriography to see if there are lesions in the arteries.
The first treatment option is walking. Walking on a regular basis helps improve blood flow in the legs. The second treatment option is reducing risk factors. It is therefore recommended to stop smoking, curb alcohol consumption and avoid high fat foods. Treating diseases that increase the risk of intermittent claudication is also beneficial. Taking acetylsalicylic acid (Aspirin™) on a regular basis helps increase blood fluidity and reduces the chances of developing a clot. It is very important for you to speak with your physician or pharmacist to make sure that this medication is safe for you to take.
If you experience pain even while at rest, angioplasty may be recommended. This procedure involves dilating the vessel by inserting a small balloon into the artery to unblock it. Certain medications can also be prescribed to make it easier for oxygen to reach the muscles or to destroy clots that may have formed. And lastly, in rare cases, if gangrene develops, amputating part of the leg may be necessary.
Foot care is crucial for those who suffer from intermittent claudication. Avoiding cuts and scrapes of all kinds is of the utmost importance since they promote infection and tend to heal slowly. Some precautions are recommended:
- Avoid walking barefoot
- Dry your feet thoroughly after washing
- Cut your toenails carefully to avoid in-grown toenails
- Wear comfortable shoes to prevent blisters.