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Health A-Z

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Harvard Medical School

Treatment

Treatment for peripheral arterial disease includes:

  • Modifying risk factors. Quitting smoking can reduce the symptoms of intermittent claudication and decrease the likelihood that the disease will get worse. It is also important to lower your cholesterol levels if they are high, keep blood pressure in the normal range, and keep your diabetes well-controlled. Talk to your doctor about the best way to do this.

  • Exercise programs. Studies have shown that people who exercise can nearly double the distance they can walk before they start feeling leg pain. Try to exercise at least 30 minutes every day. You may need frequent breaks if your legs hurt. Even if you have to stop every few minutes, don't give up. Any activity is very beneficial. Most people choose walking, and find that walking on a track or a treadmill is easier than walking on pavement. You could also try bike riding (stationary or standard) and swimming.

  • Medications. Even if you exercise and modify your risk factors, medications can help you to better relieve symptoms and may help to slow the progression of the disease. Your doctor probably will advise you to take aspirin every day, or to take another blood-thinning medication, such as clopidogrel (Plavix). Medications, such as cilostazol (Pletal) and pentoxifylline (Trental), also can help to decrease the symptoms of intermittent claudication.

  • Revascularization procedures. The goal of revascularization is to improve circulation, either by opening narrowed arteries or by bypassing the narrowed section of the artery. These procedures include surgical and non-surgical techniques and are used in people who have severe or progressive symptoms, or whose leg pain occurs at rest. The most common non-surgical procedure is percutaneous transluminal angioplasty, also called balloon angioplasty. In this procedure, a catheter is inserted into the narrowed artery and a small balloon at the tip is inflated to open the narrowed vessel. Often, a metallic implant called a stent is used as a scaffold to support the wall of the artery after it is opened with the balloon. In some people, the narrowed vessel must be bypassed surgically using either a section of vein taken from the leg or a synthetic graft.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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