Claudication is pain caused by too little blood flow during exercise. Sometimes called intermittent claudication, this condition generally affects the blood vessels in the legs, but claudication can affect the arms, too.
At first, you'll probably notice the pain only when you're exercising, but as claudication worsens, the pain may affect you even when you're at rest.
Although it's sometimes considered a disease, claudication is technically a symptom of a disease. Most often, claudication is a symptom of peripheral artery disease, a potentially serious, but treatable circulation problem.
Fortunately, with treatment, you may be able to maintain an active lifestyle without pain.
In peripheral artery disease, the arteries that supply blood to the legs are narrowed, typically because of atherosclerosis, causing a cluster of pain symptoms called intermittent claudication. With ...
Claudication symptoms include:
Other possible symptoms include:
When to see a doctor
Claudication is most often a symptom of peripheral artery disease. In peripheral artery disease, the arteries that supply blood to your limbs are damaged, usually as a result of atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis can develop in any of your arteries, especially those in your heart. When atherosclerosis affects your arms and legs, it's called peripheral artery disease.
Atherosclerosis makes arteries hard and narrow. That's because the arteries get clogged with clumps of fat, cholesterol and other material, called atherosclerotic plaques. These plaques can make arteries so narrow that less blood can flow through them. You feel pain because your leg muscles are not getting enough oxygenated blood. Oxygen is the fuel that muscles need to contract.
Claudication isn't the only possible cause of your symptoms. Other conditions associated with similar symptoms that need to be considered include spinal stenosis, peripheral neuropathy, certain musculoskeletal conditions and deep venous thrombosis.
Development of atherosclerosis
Atherosclerosis is a process in which blood, fats such as cholesterol, and other substances build up on your artery walls. Eventually, deposits called plaques may form. The deposits may narrow &...
The risk factors for claudication are the same as those for developing atherosclerosis, including:
In extreme cases, the circulation in your legs or arms can be so limited that you feel pain even when you aren't exercising, and your legs or arms might feel cool to the touch. Severe peripheral artery disease can lead to poor healing of skin injuries and ulcers. These cuts and ulcers can develop gangrene and require limb amputation.
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to start by seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner. However, you may then be referred to a doctor who specializes in disorders of the cardiovascular system (cardiologist) or a vascular surgeon.
Because appointments can be brief, and there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to arrive well prepared. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and know what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor may be limited, so preparing a list of questions can help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For claudication, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask additional questions during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Claudication may go undiagnosed because many people consider the pain an unwelcome but inevitable consequence of aging, and some people just reduce their activity level to avoid the pain. But the tests your doctor may use to diagnose your condition are often noninvasive and can get you back on your way to resuming an active life.
Some common tests used to diagnose claudication include:
The pain in your legs could be due to another condition, such as spine, joint or muscle problems. Your doctor can make a diagnosis based on your symptoms and a medical history, physical exam and appropriate tests.
Treatments and drugs
Treatment of claudication and peripheral artery disease can help prevent your disease from getting worse and reduce your symptoms. Lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking and participating in a regular exercise regimen, are often the first steps in treating claudication.
If your claudication symptoms don't improve after adopting a healthier lifestyle, your doctor may suggest other treatment options, including:
Your doctor may also suggest a combination of treatments, such as medications and angioplasty.
Lifestyle and home remedies
The plaques that have damaged your arteries are often the result of unhealthy lifestyle habits. So a key part of treatment is stopping any unhealthy habits and adopting healthy ones.
If you have claudication or peripheral artery disease, make sure you:
There aren't any alternative medicine treatments that have been proved effective for claudication.
Several treatments have had mixed results, proving beneficial in some studies, but then showing no benefit in others. These include:
Another treatment, L-arginine, appeared to help relieve symptoms of claudication, but it may be harmful.
Vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids have also been suggested as treatments for claudication, but when studied in clinical trials, these treatments didn't help relieve symptoms.
Coping and support
It can be frightening to learn that the reason you're having pain is that your blood vessels are narrowing. Learning all you can about what's causing your claudication can put you in control, and you'll know exactly what steps to take to ease your pain.
Some people also find it helpful to talk with other people who are going through the same thing that they are. In a support group, you may find encouragement, advice and maybe even an exercise partner or two. Ask your doctor if there are any support groups in your area.
The best way to prevent claudication is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. That means:
Last Updated: 2012-01-20
© 1998-2014 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). All rights reserved. A single copy of these materials may be reprinted for noncommercial personal use only. "Mayo," "Mayo Clinic," "MayoClinic.com," "Mayo Clinic Health Information," "Reliable information for a healthier life" and the triple-shield Mayo logo are trademarks of Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.
Terms and conditions of use