Many people are bothered by painful aching legs. Although many of the causes of this problem are not serious it is important to seek medical advice if your legs frequently give you pain.
One of the more serious causes of leg pain is intermittent claudication. This is due to narrowing of the arteries in the leg known as peripheral vascular disease or PVD, and occurs during exercise, such as walking.
When the leg muscles are being used they require increased oxygen. If the arteries are narrowed, not enough blood — necessary to provide the oxygen — gets to the muscles, resulting in pain.
People with claudication find that they can walk only a certain distance before leg pain forces them to stop for a rest. After a few minutes they can usually carry on for a while until the next attack.
Claudication is more common in smokers, overweight people, people who have diabetes, and people with high blood pressure and increased cholesterol in the blood.
If ignored, the poor circulation can lead to leg ulcers and even gangrene, meaning the possible loss of toes or feet.
When claudication is suspected, various tests can determine the degree and site of any narrowing of the arteries. Surgical treatment can sometimes help improve the situation, but equally important are lifestyle changes such as stopping smoking, taking more exercise and losing weight.
As well as being important in its own right, claudication caused by PVD can alert your doctor that you may have problems with narrowing of other important blood vessels such as those supplying your heart or brain.
Last Reviewed: 16 February 2009