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Intermittent Claudication

What is intermittent claudication?

Intermittent claudication is a symptom of the vascular disease. It is a predictable pattern of lower leg pain caused by inadequate blood flow to exercising muscles.

Intermittent claudication pain has three characteristics:

  • It is a cramping pain in the calves.

  • It is relieved by rest.

  • It is reproducible, almost always brought on by walking a certain distance. The pain may occur earlier if walking uphill or more quickly.

Causes of intermittent claudication

Narrowing of the arteries by fatty acids (atherosclerosis) is the primary cause of intermittent claudication. This narrowing reduces, and sometimes completely blocks the blood flow through the arteries. This means the muscles do not get enough oxygen and nutrients to work properly.

Cigarette smoking is the biggest risk factor for all vascular disease. Others include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and strong family history.

Associated symptoms

Other symptoms of the vascular disease include deformed toenails, hair loss, skin thinning and ulcers or infections of the feet or ankles. Small cuts and wounds on the lower leg may heal very slowly.

Treatment options

The most important aspect of treatment is lifestyle modification. Stop smoking and controlling diet play a key role.

Exercise is one of the least expensive, and one of the most effective, means of combating intermittent claudication. An easy way to start is to commence a walking program.

Other conservative treatments include dietary supplements and medication.

If conservative approaches are unsuccessful then a number of surgical options can be used. These include the use of a small instrument to widen the blocked area or bypass surgery.

Walking program

Important features of a walking program:

  • Repetitive daily walks with interspersed periods of rest (1-2 minutes)

  • Measurement of the distance walked

  • Continuation of the program every day

As with all new exercise programs it is recommended to consult your doctor before commencing.

Step one - training

First, find an area that you can measure the distance you walk and walk as far as you can until fatigue or pain forces you to stop. The next day walks about three-quarters of that distance then rest for one to three minutes. Then repeat the same three-quarter distance a further three or four times resting between each walk. Repeat this procedure for a week, at least once per day.

Step two

Re-test your maximum distance (in some cases this will already have improved) and repeat the procedures of the first week. Then re-test your maximum distance weekly and adjust your daily walking appropriately.

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