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What Is Claudication? - Definition, Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Emily Smathers
In this lesson we will review the meaning of claudication, discuss symptoms and review treatment for claudication. We will also learn if it relates to other medical issues.

Introduction

Have you ever been walking or jogging and felt pain in your legs? Or maybe you were doing pushups as fast as you can and your arm muscles began to ache? It's common to feel some muscle ache after working out hard, but sometimes the ache can be more serious. If the pain continues for a long while or does not go away after some rest, medical attention should be sought, as it may be claudication.

Claudication is pain -- generally found in the legs -- that is due to lack of oxygen. Unlike regular muscle aches caused by fatigue or exercise, this is due to the narrowed veins that generally come from atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is the narrowing of blood vessels that occurs when an abundance of cholesterol in the blood causes plaques to form in the veins.

Claudication is a symptom of Peripheral Arterial Disease, commonly referred to as PAD. PAD is a treatable circulation disease that results from the narrowing of blood vessels that generally comes from atherosclerosis and can be quite serious if left untreated.

Symptoms

Claudication generally causes pain in the legs because atherosclerosis tends to affect the legs more than other body parts. The plaques tend to form at the furthest point from the heart, and the legs are the furthest from the heart.

The pain of claudication can be sharp or dull, but is usually intermittent. This occurs because when you walk or other exertion occurs, the need for oxygen increases and results in decreased blood flow in the veins. The blood flow in the legs cannot keep up with the demand for oxygen, which results in pain. When walking stops, the pain usually subsides.

However, over time rest alone will not relieve pain due to continued plaque formation and inability of oxygen to restore the leg muscles. Plaques may form in the arms as well and can also cause pain with exertion. While atherosclerosis and cholesterol plaques are generally the reason for claudication, blood vessels could spasm and also cause pain and may happen regardless of exertion.

Treatment

Treatment for claudication generally begins with medication that widens the vein or decreases the stickiness of the blood, which improves the circulation in the leg and decreases the pain. Sometimes medication to thin the blood is used, but this treatment will only decrease symptoms, not cure the main issue. If medical treatment does not work, or if the damage is too severe, then more serious treatment will be sought. This can include angioplasty or vascular surgery.

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