In patients who have disease in the arteries of the leg, they can sometimes get pain in the leg, which feels like cramp, when they walk. This pain usually comes on after walking a certain distance and is typically relieved by resting. They can only walk a shorter distance if they walk up a hill or slope or if they try to walk faster. The pain is due to a mismatch between the blood supply to the leg and the blood required by the leg muscles, usually due to atherosclerosis as shown in the picture above. Although the symptoms are unpleasant it is not a dangerous condition. Indeed, over time, most patients will have an improvement in their symptoms if:
1. They stop smoking
2. They have their blood pressure well controlled
3. They are treated with a cholesterol lowering medication (statin) even if their blood cholesterol level is normal.
4. They start taking a low dose of aspirin every day e.g. 100mg
5. They keep walking and exercising. There is even greater benefit if patients can increase their exercise and try to walk through the pain.
In a small number of patients, despite the above measures, their symptoms are very disabling or get worse. These cases may benefit from treatment to widen the diseased artery (angioplasty) or to have the diseased artery bypassed. These cases should be referred to Stuart Walker for an assessment and to discuss the options.
More importantly, if you have intermittent claudication it is a warning that you will also have disease (atherosclerosis) in other parts of the body. It is very important that progression of this disease is halted but institution of the above medical regime.
For patients who would like more information, see the Patient leaflet for IC. For medical students and doctors see the IC PDF. There is a lot of medical and surgical terminology in this document.