Intermittent claudication
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Intermittent Claudication is a kind of disorder characterized by sporadic limping. The word claudication is derived from the Latin term that literally means “to limp”, and the limping that is manifested by this ailment is caused by a tightening of the calf muscle at the back of the leg, or both legs at a time. Sometimes the tightening sensation spreads to the thigh muscles and buttocks.

The pain that a person experiences in these areas stems from an inadequate blood supply to the muscles of the lower extremities. This kind of condition is known as ischemia.


Intermittent Claudication is a common ailment and can occur among different age groups. It is usually found in people who are elderly or middle aged, with over 5% of people over the age of 65 suffering from it. Intermittent Claudication also serves as an early warning sign that a person suffering from it may have a more serious illness, such as coronary artery disease.

Only a small percentage, approximately 2%, of people afflicted with Intermittent Claudication will need surgery due to a worsening of their symptoms. Surgery is necessary only when the disorder reaches the point where circulation is cut off to a large degree, causing pain even when the legs are at rest during the night.

A majority of sufferers often experience an alleviation of their symptoms after appropriate treatment and certain lifestyle changes.


One of the most common causes of Intermittent Claudication is a condition known as atherosclerosis. It is a thickening of the walls inside the coronary arteries due to an accumulation of fatty deposits. These fatty deposits gradually build-up into irregularly layered plaque until the arteries are severely or completely blocked. Atherosclerosis occurs due to a variety of factors that include heredity, smoking, and an unhealthy fat-rich diet. It may also occur in the arteries that provide blood to the heart, thus mimicking angina pains experienced in the chest. In many cases, patients who suffer from Intermittent Claudication also suffer from angina.

Intermittent Claudication pain is similar to pain felt by people who suffer from arthritis and neuropathy, a type of nerve disorder. It is characterized by a tightening and painful sensation in the muscles of the legs, especially during physical activity such as exercise or walking.

The muscles of the calf are afflicted with a sensation akin to cramping, causing intense discomfort in sufferers. Some people may be able to walk despite the pain, developing a noticeable limp. As the disease progresses, the pain may only be relieved through periods of rest. Walking uphill exacerbates the pain symptoms, particularly if a person who suffers from Intermittent Claudication walks barefoot or wears flat shoes. The pain and a tightening sensation worsen during situations where the muscles of the legs have to exert more effort.

In some cases, sufferers experience pain after taking a few steps, others start to feel symptoms after walking a mile or so. Milder cases of the disorder merely bring about discomfort, causing the sufferer to slow down considerably. With more advanced cases, the pain may be too severe to allow continued motion.
Intermittent claudication
Image: Intermittent claudication

There are times when the affected area will feel numb, and symptoms often disappear as soon as a person stops walking to take a rest. Often people who are afflicted with Intermittent Claudication feel that the disorder has impaired the quality of their life as it becomes a painful chore to take walks and exercise, as well as to get to where they are going because of the slow progress and frequent stops that they have to take to rest.

The first time a person experiences symptoms, it may seem worse for the first few months until the body becomes used to the restricted flow of blood to the legs. After this initial adjustment, the smaller arteries in the lower extremities start to open up in order to improve blood flow. In a third of patients who suffer from Intermittent Claudication, their ailment may become stable, a third will improve with proper treatment, and the remaining third will experience a deterioration due to the presence of added risk factors such as smoking.


The doctor will check the patient’s blood cholesterol and prescribe medication to lower the patient’s high blood cholesterol levels. The doctor may also prescribe low dose aspirin to suspend deterioration in the patient’s condition, as well as safeguard the patient’s coronary arteries. The doctor will also discuss with the patient the various ways to reduce fat content in their diet.


Intermittent Claudication can be improved with regular walks. It can develop fitness in the muscles of the legs that are affected by this condition. A person may even be able to improve their walking distance by embarking on a formal exercise program to improve the blood flow to the calf muscles, as well as the other muscles in the legs. A patient can steadily increase the length of time spent walking, as well as the number of walks each day to build strength and resistance. This method of approach will work wonders to improve the patient’s condition unless the disease is severe and poses considerable risk to their legs.

People suffering from Intermittent Claudication who smoke will actually be able to slow, and even halt, the progression of the disease by quitting their smoking habit. Cigarettes pose adverse effects on blood circulation. When a sufferer quits smoking, the coronary arteries are protected from deteriorating further. Losing weight through a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet of healthy food is also important. Coupled with regular exercise or increased physical activity, this lifestyle change will improve a range of vascular-related diseases and considerably reduce the symptoms of atherosclerosis. Furthermore, the decrease in weight will free up the legs from the pressure of bearing a heavier load than it has to, thus improving the symptoms of Intermittent Claudication.


A patient should have their blood pressure checked regularly to ensure that it remains low and would not pose a danger by further hardening their arteries. Patients with diabetes should also maintain an adequate diet to control their blood sugar levels. Wearing walking shoes with a moderately raised heel will also be helpful in removing pressure from the already painful calf muscles.
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