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Arterial Blockages

Blockage of the circulation in the legs is a common sign of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. Approximately 5 percent of the population over the age of 65 has detectable arterial blockage in the legs. Poor circulation of the legs also can be the result of less common causes including aneurysms, the compression of arteries and dissections or internal tears extending along the length of the artery.

The symptoms of arterial blockage vary by individual, with some people experiencing no symptoms at all, while others may have:

  • Pain when walking, called claudication
  • Pain when at rest
  • Foot ulcers
  • Gangrene

To diagnose a blocked artery in your leg, your doctor will ask about your medical history, perform a physical examination and order a number of safe and painless non-invasive tests. These tests will check your circulation and may include measurement of blood pressure in the legs and ultrasound imaging of the arteries.

If your doctor confirms that you have an arterial blockage in your leg, treatment will be based on the degree of blockage and the symptoms present. Treatment may include the following:

  • Risk factor modification, such as smoking cessation, control of high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and optimal management of diabetes
  • Specific medication
  • Balloon angioplasty where a catheter-guided balloon is inflated inside the affected artery to relieve the blockage
  • Surgery — often bypass surgery to direct blood flow around the blocked area of the artery

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Heart & Vascular Center

Vascular & Endovascular Surgery
400 Parnassus Ave., Suite A-6110
San Francisco, CA 94143
Phone: (415) 353-2357
Fax: (415) 353-2669
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