What Is Intermittent Claudication

Intermittent claudication refers to the pain that is experienced in the muscles, which is usually felt after performing some strenuous physical activity. The pain subsides when you stop performing the physical activity and take some rest. It can occur due to blood flow problems happening in the peripheral arteries, because of some arterial disease. If it is left untreated, might lead to health complications. Timely treatment can prevent the worsening of the condition.     

What causes intermittent claudication?  

It results when a part of the body lacks enough flow of blood. It is a kind of circulatory problem, which is termed ischemia, wherein certain body parts do not get an adequate supply of blood and hence they are deprived of oxygen. Lack of blood flow to a particular body part for a prolonged duration can lead to its damage, as the cells in that area die due to lack of nourishment.  

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is the primary cause of intermittent claudication. Moreover, PAD is a condition that happens along with atherosclerosis, which leads to the hardening of the arteries. The condition usually affects the legs, as it causes the build-up of plaque or fat deposits in the passage of the arteries present in the legs. Plaque build-up clogs the vascular passages of the legs and blocks the flow of blood through them. This limits the blood supply to the limbs.   

Symptoms of intermittent claudication

When you engage your body in some exercises such as running, brisk walking, squatting, etc. your muscles require more blood for nourishment. However, the condition deprives the legs of sufficient oxygen, which gives rise to sudden pain in the muscles. One might develop the following symptoms:

  • Muscle cramping
  • Numbness in limbs
  • Muscle pain
  • Pain in calves, thighs, hips, buttocks, and feet
  • Tingling or burning sensation in limbs
  • Weakness in the lower half body
  • Cold feet
  • Loss of hair on legs
  • Development of foot sores
  • Impotence issues in males

These symptoms can be felt from the buttocks to the feet, basically in the lower half of the body. Some health conditions also contribute to this condition, they include peripheral neuropathy (damaged nerves), aneurysm (bulging of arteries present in legs), spinal stenosis (narrowed spinal canal), and atherosclerosis (hardening of blood vessels). All these conditions are a cause of arterial disease.

Risk factors of intermittent claudication

Individuals that are susceptible to developing intermittent claudication are as follows:

  • Overweight or obese individuals
  • Males above 50 years of age
  • Females above 60 years of age
  • Individuals who do not exercise
  • Individuals with a family history of intermittent claudication or peripheral arterial disease
  • Diabetic individuals
  • Those having high blood pressure, high cholesterol issues, or kidney disorder
  • Chronic smokers

Diagnosis & treatment

The healthcare provider will conduct a visual examination of the legs and check the pulses using a stethoscope. Based on that, they will suggest some tests that will confirm whether the person has got intermittent claudication or not. According to the Mayo Clinic, the tests that are given below will reveal the results:

  • Arteriogram – The test involves the injection of a liquid, known as contrast, in the area on the legs that might potentially be affected by claudication. An X-ray image of that injected area will be taken, which will help with the diagnosis.  
  • Ankle-brachial index – This test will measure and compare the pressure with which the blood is flowing through the arms and legs.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan
  • Vascular ultrasound

Ways to prevent claudication

The condition can be prevented by implementing healthy lifestyle habits and getting an early diagnosis and treatments for the conditions that potentiate the risk of developing claudication. Let us have a look at some lifestyle factors you need to change or adopt for eliminating the risk of claudication.  

  • Eating a healthy diet

A well-balanced diet including lots of vegetables, leafy greens, fresh fruits, nuts, fish, eggs, cereals, pulses, poultry, etc. can provide your body with essential nutrients to function optimally. It is necessary to avoid consuming junk and processed foods that are usually loaded with high amounts of trans fat, saturated fats, sugars, and sodium.

  • Exercising regularly

Staying fit by remaining physically active daily will eliminate any possibility of health issues. Physical activity helps in burning down the extra calories and getting rid of the bad cholesterol from the body, which prevents the deposition of cholesterol fat in the form of plaque in the passages of the blood vessels. Therefore, physical activity is a must.

  • Healthy weight

An overweight and obese body is more prone to arterial diseases. Such individuals suffer due to metabolic disorders, which deteriorate their health. Such individuals have very high chances of developing claudication problems. So, it is necessary to maintain a healthy weight, which can be achieved with the help of a clean diet and regular exercise.

  • Managing blood sugar

Individuals with diabetes need to manage their blood sugar levels in the body very well, as a rise in them can affect the blood vessels and potentiate the risk of claudication.   

  • Blood pressure and cholesterol levels

High cholesterol and hypertension are the major contributors to vascular disorders. High blood pressure injures the linings of the arteries and affects their function, while cholesterol fats get accumulated in the passages of the arteries, thereby causing the blockage of blood flow. 

  • No smoking

Chronic smokers develop vascular disorders quite early. The harmful chemicals of smoke enter the lungs and get transferred to the bloodstream, thereby injuring the lings of the blood vessels. Smoking causes hardening of the arteries.

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