Intermittent claudication is one of the most common symptoms of peripheral artery disease (PAD). If you aren’t sure what the term means, you may not know whether or not you are experiencing this classic PAD symptom.
For help navigating a potential PAD diagnosis, our knowledgeable vascular specialists at USA Vascular Centers can guide you every step of the way.
Intermittent Claudication Symptoms
Intermittent claudication is a condition that presents as cramping pain in your calves while exercising. You can also experience this pain in your thighs or buttocks, although this is less common.
Most people feel the pain while walking or running, although it can occur in other situations where strain is put on the legs. A key feature of intermittent claudication is that the pain disappears when you stop being physically active.
What Causes Intermittent Claudication in the Legs?
If you are experiencing intermittent claudication, atherosclerosis is the likely culprit. Atherosclerosis is the narrowing of arteries due to plaque buildup, and it’s the main cause of peripheral artery disease.
The reason you feel pain while walking or running with intermittent claudication is that the arteries that supply blood to your legs are narrowed, restricting blood flow. During exercise, your muscles aren’t getting enough oxygen-rich blood, resulting in that cramping pain.
Intermittent claudication can also occur when other factors cause arteries to tighten (vasoconstriction). Vasoconstriction is a bodily process that can both help and hurt you. The tightening of blood vessels in cold temperatures can help you stay warm, for example.
On the other hand, stress, smoking, some types of medication, and high-sodium foods can also cause vasoconstriction. When your blood vessels are tighter, your blood pressure rises. You may experience increased intermittent claudication pain when you are out walking in the cold, or when you have eaten a high-sodium meal and follow it with a walk.
Is Intermittent Claudication a Sign of Peripheral Artery Disease?
Intermittent claudication is one of the four stages of PAD. Left untreated, atherosclerosis can worsen, and intermittent claudication symptoms may become more severe. You may begin to feel cramping in your legs even when you are not walking or running.
Over time, you can develop ulcers, slowed toenail growth, open sores, and other serious symptoms of advanced atherosclerosis. Intermittent claudication can develop into the final two stages of PAD:
- Critical limb ischemia, which occurs when PAD has progressed to the point that arteries leading to the lower limbs are severely blocked.
- Acute limb ischemia, a complete blockage of blood flow to a limb and a life-threatening condition.
It’s important to seek a consultation with a vascular specialist who is trained in diagnosing and treating PAD if you suspect that you have intermittent claudication. Treatment can greatly improve your prognosis and quality of life, helping you return to activities you love.
Diagnosing & Treating Intermittent Claudication Caused by PAD
Our extensive network of vascular specialists at USA Vascular Centers is highly trained in diagnosing, monitoring, and treating intermittent claudication caused by PAD.
Once you meet with a vascular specialist, you may participate in a series of diagnostic tests to determine if PAD is the cause of your leg pain.
Your specialist may ask for a complete history of the pain, taking note of what activities make it worse and better. A physical exam can help your doctor determine if you have any of these signs of PAD in addition to the claudication:
- The pulses in your legs are faint or absent.
- You have any open sores or ulcers on your lower limbs.
- Your skin is discolored or cold to the touch.
An ankle-brachial index (ABI) test, a minimally invasive diagnostic test in which your doctor measures the systolic blood pressure in the major arteries of your arm and ankle. After taking and recording the measurements, your specialist will divide them to determine your ABI index number. This number can tell your specialist whether or not your arteries are impacted by PAD.
Your specialist may also choose to conduct an angiography, a minimally invasive procedure that involves injecting contrast dye into your vascular system and using imaging to locate narrowed arteries.
Treating intermittent claudication means treating the underlying PAD. Your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes such as smoking cessation, weight loss, starting a healthy eating plan, and beginning an exercise program.
While it may seem counterintuitive to exercise more if it hurts to walk or run, your doctor can help you slowly ease into a program that works for you. Exercise is one of the most notable ways to ease symptoms of PAD.
If needed, your vascular specialist may also recommend medication that can help improve walking distances, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, prevent blood clots from forming, or treat diabetes.
For advanced intermittent claudication treatment, your vascular specialist may decide to perform a minimally invasive procedure to help open narrowed arteries and promote increased blood flow:
- Angioplasty, a method of threading a balloon-tipped catheter through the vascular system and inflating the balloon to open clogged arteries.
- Stent placement, which is an angioplasty with the added step of placing a mesh stent inside the narrowed artery to help prop it open.
- Atherectomy, the process your vascular specialist can use to remove plaque with a laser or blade-tipped catheter.
With prompt medical care, your intermittent claudication symptoms can improve and your risk of developing serious PAD complications can be reduced.
Schedule a Consultation at USA Vascular Centers
The experienced vascular specialists at USA Vascular Centers are here to help you live a more comfortable life. Our empathetic doctors will walk you through your leading-edge intermittent claudication treatment with compassion and skill.
To find relief from your intermittent claudication symptoms, get started on your treatment journey by scheduling an appointment with one of our trusted experts online or giving us a call at 888.773.2193 today.