Intermittent claudication: an overview

Atherosclerosis. 2006 Aug;187(2):221-37. doi: 10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2005.11.027. Epub 2005 Dec 28.


Intermittent claudication (IC) is defined by leg muscle pain, cramping and fatigue brought on by ambulation/exercise; relieved on rest; and caused by inadequate blood supply and is the primary symptom of peripheral arterial disease (PAD). PAD has a detrimental effect on the quality of life. PAD is a debilitating atherosclerotic disease of the lower limbs and is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. IC is an extremely important marker of atheroma. Up to 60% patients with IC have significant underlying coronary and/or carotid disease and 40% of all patients suffering from IC die or suffer a stroke within 5 years of presentation. The therapeutic intervention of IC essentially aims at providing symptomatic relief and reducing the systemic cardiovascular complications. Although exercise therapy is one of the most efficacious conservative treatments for claudication, the pharmacotherapeutic goals can be best achieved through an increase in the walking capacity to improve quality of life and a decrease in rates of amputation. In the development of treatment for IC, an aggressive non-pharmacological intervention and pharmacological treatment of the risk factors associated with IC are considered. In the next 2 years, the results of major trials of drugs that stabilize and regress atherosclerosis such as statins and angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors, and anti-platelet agents, recombinant growth factors and immune modulators will be available for IC. Levocarnitine (l-carnitine) and a derivative, propionyl levocarnitine, are emerging agents that increase the pain-free walking and improve the quality of life in IC patients by working at the metabolism and exercise performance of ischemic muscles. This article provides a comprehensive review of the pathophysiology involved, diagnosis of IC and existing and emerging pharmacotherapies with rationale for their use in its treatment.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Intermittent Claudication* / drug therapy
  • Intermittent Claudication* / epidemiology
  • Intermittent Claudication* / physiopathology
  • Platelet Aggregation Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Vasodilator Agents / therapeutic use*


  • Platelet Aggregation Inhibitors
  • Vasodilator Agents