WEDNESDAY, May 14 (HealthDay News) -- The prescription drug naftidrofuryl eases leg cramps caused by narrowing blood vessels and enables patients to walk farther, according to Belgian researchers.
They reviewed seven studies of 1,266 people with the painful condition called intermittent claudication. Patients who took the typical 200-milligram dose of naftidrofuryl (which relaxes blood vessels) three times a day for six months could walk about 40 percent farther without pain than those who took a placebo. More than half the patients who took the drug improved their walking distance by more than 50 percent, compared to just over one-third of patients who took a placebo. On average, patients who took the drug walked about 93 more yards.
The findings were published in the current issue of the Cochrane Library journal.
"Being able to walk that extra distance and have less pain makes an important, meaningful difference for these patients," study author Dr. Tine De Backer, a cardiologist at the Heart Center and at the Heymans Institute of Pharmacology at Ghent University, said in a prepared statement.
Naftidrofuryl only treats the type of leg cramping that's a symptom of intermittent claudication, but not the cause of the condition, which is peripheral artery disease (PAD), De Backer noted.
PAD is hardening and narrowing of the blood vessels typically associated with diabetes, smoking, high blood pressure, a sedentary lifestyle, elevated blood lipids and aging. PAD affects one in 20 Americans over age 50, according to the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. People with type 2 diabetes have an especially high risk of PAD and intermittent claudication.
While naftidrofuryl can help patients with intermittent claudication, the review authors emphasized that quitting smoking, getting more exercise and eating a healthy diet are the first line of defense against PAD and resulting intermittent claudication.
However, doctors should prescribe naftidrofuryl for intermittent claudication, "if patients cannot control their symptoms with the drug treatments they are already on, and if they are still in pain after making lifestyle modifications," De Backer said.
The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about PAD and claudication.