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Claudication

What is claudication?

Claudication refers to limping because of pain in the thigh, calf, and/or buttocks that occurs when walking. Claudication may be a symptom of peripheral arterial disease (PAD). PAD is caused by a narrowing or blockage of arteries in the legs and/or aorta (the largest artery in the body and the primary blood vessel leading from the heart to the body), which may cause decreased blood flow to the muscles of the calf, thigh, or buttocks. This decreased blood flow may cause claudication. The pain associated with claudication occurs with walking but disappears at rest.

Claudication may be a symptom of underlying systemic artery disease and is seen more often in persons who have blockages in other arteries, including the heart and brain. Because claudication is associated with an increased risk for heart attack or stroke, its presence signals the need for assessment and possible treatment.

About 8 to 12 million Americans have peripheral arterial disease (PAD), particularly people age 50 and older. The Vascular Disease Foundation states men (5 percent) and women (2.5 percent) 60 years of age and older have symptoms of intermittent claudication.

Claudication generally occurs when walking the same distance. With progressive vessel disease, the initial claudication distance (that distance at which a person first experiences pain when walking) may decrease or the person may no longer be able to walk.

What causes claudication?

Blockage of an artery in the legs may cause intermittent claudication. Atherosclerosis (a build-up of plaque, which is a deposit of fatty substances, cholesterol, cellular waste products, calcium, and fibrin in the inner lining of an artery) is the most common cause of blockage of arteries.

Blockages in the leg are most common in the thigh and behind the knee but may also occur at other sites in the body including the aorta, groin, or abdomen. A person may have more than one blockage.

Treatment for claudication:

Specific treatment will be determined by your physician based on:

  • your age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent of the disease
  • the location of the blockage
  • your signs and symptoms
  • your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the disease
  • your opinion or preference