You probably are familiar with the terms angina and heart
attack, which are related to a blockage of blood flow to
the heart. That same sort of blockage can occur elsewhere
in the body, depriving the limbs (the peripheral parts of
the body) of oxygen and nutrients. Left untreated, the
disease can lead to amputation.
Healthy peripheral arteries are smooth and unobstructed,
allowing blood to freely provide the legs with oxygen,
glucose and other nutrients. As we age, peripheral arteries
build up plaque, a sticky substance made up mostly of fat
and cholesterol. Plaque narrows the passageway within
the arteries and causes them to become stiff.
A moderate blockage in one of arteries in a major leg
muscle, such as the calf or thigh, can cause pain when
walking. This pain can be temporarily decreased with
rest, but will act up again with more walking or activity.
Lower extremity pain, similar to angina, is called
claudication by medical providers. The pain itself is not
limb-threatening but it is a sign that the person should
make lifestyle changes and see a doctor. Examples of
possible treatments include: smoking cessation, daily
exercise and medical management.
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