Claudication is pain or discomfort felt in the legs during walking. The word claudication is derived from the Latin word claudicatio, which means "to limp."
Claudication is a symptom of peripheral artery disease (PAD). Claudication occurs when the arteries in your legs do not receive enough blood and oxygen due to narrowed or blocked arteries. In most cases, this blockage is caused by atherosclerosis. Because atherosclerosis may occur throughout the body and not just in the legs, it is critical to diagnose claudication as it may predict an increased risk for other health problems such as heart attack and stroke.
Symptoms of Claudication
Typical symptoms of claudication include:
- Discomfort or pain in one or both legs that happens when you walk and goes away when you rest
- Tightness, heaviness, cramping or weakness in one or both of your legs when you walk
What to Expect at Your Medical Exam
Your vascular specialist will try to determine if you have claudication and peripheral artery disease and then recommend the best treatment for you. Your evaluation will include questions about your symptoms, their location and how often and for how long they have occurred. You'll also discuss your general health.
Your consultation will include a physical examination, including pulse tests. Your vascular surgeon will feel your pulse at various locations and may listen to it with an instrument called a doppler. Because atherosclerosis can affect any artery in your body, your vascular specialist will usually check arteries in other parts of your body in addition to your legs.
Your physician may request other tests in order to make a diagnosis. These may include:
- Ankle brachial index (ABI)
- Pulse volume recording, which measures the volume of blood at various points in your legs
- Duplex ultrasound
- Blood tests for cholesterol, high blood sugar or other markers for artery disease
- Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA)
- Computerized tomographic angiography (CTA)
Treatment for Claudication
A consultation with a vascular specialist is recommended to discuss the severity of the disease and the various treatment options available. Based on the result of your physical exam and your diagnostic testing, your vascular surgeon will treat your claudication.
A major goal is to address the underlying cause of your PAD, the atherosclerosis. Lifestyle modifications may be recommended, including:
- Smoking cessation (this is the most important lifestyle modification)
- Weight loss
- Better nutrition
- Medication such as cholesterol-lowering drugs
Treatment for claudication usually begins with a daily walking exercise program and occasionally the use of specific medications prescribed as appropriate by your vascular surgeon.
Many patients' health levels improve markedly with a walking program and lifestyle changes, especially quitting smoking. Often these changes are all that is needed to improve symptoms of claudication. However, if they do not help or if the symptoms worsen, your vascular surgeon may recommend other medications, endovascular intervention or bypass surgery.