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Femoral Artery Blockage Symptoms and Treatment

written by: Emma Lloyd • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 12/20/2009

Someone with atherosclerosis risks the formation of blood clots in affected arteries. When blockage occurs in a leg artery the condition is called a femoral artery blockage. Symptoms of blockage include leg pain and cramping which becomes worse during activity.

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    The most common cause of femoral artery blockage is atherosclerosis, a disease which causes the arteries to narrow. Atherosclerosis is a progressive and chronic disease in which material made up largely of calcium, fat, and cholesterol is deposited on the walls of arteries. This material hardens and forms a structure called a plaque, which narrows the arterial walls, makes the arterial walls rough, and reduces their flexibility. The diseased arteries are at risk of being blocked by blood clots, which can prevent transport of blood in the artery.

    Multiple arteries are at risk of being affected by atherosclerosis, including the carotid arteries of the neck, and the coronary arteries. Also at risk are the femoral arteries and their extensions, the popliteal arteries.

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    Femoral Artery Blockage Symptoms

    The symptoms of a femoral artery blockage which are experienced depend on how far advanced the disease is, and the size and age of the blockage. An older blockage that has developed slowly tends to produce symptoms which are less severe and less painful than symptoms of a sudden blockage. This is because when a blockage develops gradually collateral blood vessels develop, which allow blood to flow around the site of the blockage. When the blockage is sudden there is no development of collateral blood vessels to alleviate symptoms.

    The symptoms of a femoral artery blockage which are experienced depend on how far advanced the disease is, and the size and age of the blockage. An older blockage that has developed slowly tends to produce symptoms which are less severe and less painful than symptoms of a sudden blockage. This is because when a blockage develops gradually collateral blood vessels develop, which allow blood to flow around the site of the blockage. When the blockage is sudden there is no development of collateral blood vessels to alleviate symptoms.

    Femoral artery disease symptoms may include the following:

    • Pain or cramps in the buttocks, thighs, or calves which is worse when walking
    • Reddish or bluish skin discoloration
    • Unusually faint pulse in the leg
    • Decreased hair growth, thin skin, and thickened toenails on the affected leg
    • Wounds that are slow to heal or do not heal
    • Men with the disease may become impotent

    In the case of a sudden blockage, many of these symptoms may not be present. Instead, intense cramping pain tends to develop at the site of blockage and in surrounding areas.

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    Treatment and Recovery

    Once the condition is diagnosed, signs and symptoms of arterial disease are managed by controlling risk factors such as diet, exercise, and weight.

    If a femoral or popliteal artery becomes blocked, surgery may be required to remove or bypass the blockage and restore proper blood flow to the leg. Surgery is often physically taxing for a patient, requiring a stay in hospital of several days afterwards. Once home, a patient can resume normal activities as recommended by his or her doctor.