Smoker’s Leg (Window Sickness)

By | June 8, 2022

A smoker ‘s leg is also known as claudication. They are colloquial terms for arterial occlusive disease and, as the name suggests, mostly occur in heavy smokers. Statistics prove that every tenth man over the age of 55 is affected by these diseases. But a smoker’s leg can also be detected in more and more women.

What is a smoker’s leg?

In fact, smoker ‘s leg is a peripheral arterial occlusive disease of the pelvic or leg arteries. Since this is the second most common disease in smokers, it is also colloquially called smoker’s leg. Another name is “intermittent claudication” because even after walking for a short while, you have to stop because of the pain. For what is colic, please visit

The smoker’s leg, to stick with the term, is a lack of arterial blood flow in the extremities (in 90 percent of cases in the lower extremities, the legs) due to an occlusion of the aorta, the cutaneous artery. Depending on the severity, those affected feel no discomfort or the symptoms are so severe that an amputation must be considered.


In almost all cases, atherosclerosis, hardening of the arteries, is the main cause of smoker ‘s leg, as it leads to arterial narrowing. Inflammatory vascular diseases are more of a marginal phenomenon. The most important risk factors for the development of arteriosclerosis with the consequences mentioned are smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure or dyslipidemia. Heredity, on the other hand, rarely plays a role.

Due to arterial occlusive diseases, certain regions of the body (such as the legs) are no longer sufficiently supplied with oxygen and nutrients. This causes pain, weakness, numbness, or pale skin. In these cases, the arteries are already 90 percent calcified. This is also the reason for the different perceptions of symptoms, because those affected often do not notice anything about their suffering – until simply walking becomes the source of pain.

What is dangerous is that arterial constriction can also affect the brain and heart. Very often, strokes and heart attacks are the result, which can lead to death.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

Colloquially referred to as smoker’s leg is an occlusive disease of the veins, which is called PAD in technical jargon. The disease occurs more frequently in heavy smokers. The hardening of the arteries creates bottlenecks. The blood cannot flow freely and the tissue is no longer sufficiently supplied with oxygen.

Doctors classify the symptoms into four stages. The main sign of the disease is pain in the affected limbs. When the constriction begins, there are no complaints. Initially, pain only becomes noticeable after longer distances of more than 200 meters.

As the disease progresses, the legs hurt even after short walks. In stage 3, the affected person’s legs hurt even when they are not put under weight. In advanced stages, inflammation and ulcers indicate the beginning of tissue death. The stress-related pain that occurs when walking is often associated with intermittent claudication.

Those affected often have to stop, similar to window shopping. If the tissue dies, blackish patches of skin form and infections occur. Depending on the location of the narrowing, numbness may appear in the limbs or buttocks. The limbs below the constriction also feel cool.


Depending on the stage it is in, a smoker’s leg can cause a number of complications and long-term effects. First, the claudication causes pain, which lasts longer and longer as the disease progresses and eventually becomes chronic. From the second stage, it is no longer possible to walk for long periods of time and the person affected can no longer cope with everyday tasks as before.

This usually leads to psychological problems. As the disease progresses, tissue proliferation, inflammation and necrosis occur – the life expectancy of those affected is reduced by up to ten years. In addition, deposits that have formed can loosen and block vital blood vessels, which usually results in a stroke or heart attack. In the long term, hardening of the arteries also affects the coronary arteries and cerebral arteries – strokes and heart attacks are also the result here.

If the smoker’s leg has to be amputated, this is often associated with circulatory disorders, delayed wound healing and phantom pains. Mistakes in hygiene or inadequate follow-up care can lead to inflammation, which is associated with further complications. Last but not least, the prescribed medicines also harbor various risks.

When should you go to the doctor?

A doctor should always be consulted if you have a smoker’s leg. This is the only way to prevent further complications and the complete death of the leg. As a rule, this disease does not heal itself and in most cases there is a significant deterioration in the general condition of the patient. The doctor should be consulted for the smoker’s leg if the person concerned suffers from severely calcified arteries, which is manifested by a bluish discoloration of the legs. Pain can also occur in the legs or other limbs, which not only occurs during movements, but also in the form of pain at rest.

Furthermore, ulcers and other skin symptoms on the legs often point to the smoker’s leg if the person concerned smokes frequently. In some cases, patients suffer from numbness. As a rule, a general practitioner or an orthopedist can be consulted for the smoker’s leg. Whether treatment is possible cannot generally be predicted. However, the person affected must definitely stop smoking in order to ensure healing.

Treatment & Therapy

Treatment for intermittent claudication aims to counteract the worsening of smoker ‘s leg, thereby preventing amputation, stroke, heart attack, or death. The causes are tackled: It is urgently recommended to give up nicotine, an existing diabetes must be treated and the cholesterol levels must be lowered.

In addition, consistent walking training is prescribed: This means regular walking to the pain threshold in order to push it further and further. Walking improves blood circulation in the body and new capillaries and blood vessels are formed that can supply the affected leg again.

In addition, exercise has a positive effect on all other risk factors: diabetes, cholesterol, blood pressure and quality of life through increasing painlessness. Walking is therefore considered one of the most important therapies. Drug or surgical treatment methods are also possible: For example, the laying of a bypass, anticoagulant drugs or vascular dilatation.


By renouncing nicotine and foods high in fat or sugar, through consistent training and the treatment of existing pre-existing conditions such as high blood pressure, a smoker ‘s leg can be improved or avoided in advance.

Regular exercise through endurance sports such as jogging, cycling or Nordic walking is one of the best means of health, as it has a positive effect on all other risk factors and also counteracts obesity. If symptoms occur, those affected should go to the doctor immediately and point out a possible smoker’s leg. The earlier treatment begins, the better the chances of recovery.


Follow-up care for the smoker’s leg is aimed at preventing the condition from getting worse and reducing pain. Depending on the stage of the disease, a large number of complications occur that require follow-up care in order not to become chronic. From the second stage, it becomes difficult to walk for long periods of time. As a result, the affected person is so limited that he usually needs help in everyday life.

These limitations can lead to psychological problems that should be treated with psychotherapy to improve the mental state. The key is to eliminate the root cause of smoker’s leg and lead a healthy lifestyle. Nicotine should be completely avoided. Furthermore, a healthy diet without fat and sugar should be maintained.

This is used to lower cholesterol levels and treat existing diabetes. Regular endurance units, for example in the form of walking, jogging or cycling, are important to improve overall blood circulation and reduce pain. In some cases, drug treatment with anticoagulant drugs may be appropriate. In some cases, surgical measures such as a bypass are also necessary.

In severe cases, the smoker’s leg has to be amputated. Here, optimal hygiene and control must be carried out in the aftercare in order to reduce inflammation and complications. Furthermore, check-up appointments with the doctor are urgently recommended in order to check the course of the disease. Unfortunately, the prognosis of the smoker’s leg is rather poor. Tissue proliferation, inflammation and necrosis reduce the life expectancy of those affected by up to ten years. The risk of dying from a stroke or heart attack increases.

You can do that yourself

Also known as arterial disease, this disease is most common in smokers. In order to avoid an amputation, the affected person should definitely give up smoking. If there are other causes of the smoker’s leg, such as diabetes, a lipid metabolism disorder or high blood pressure, these underlying diseases must be treated with medication or better adjusted.

Even if it hurts, patients affected by a smoker’s leg have to move a lot. Daily walks to the pain threshold are a must. The distances covered should increase daily. With the movement of the legs, blood circulation improves and new vessels form. Walking training is not only the most effective means of preventing amputation, but also has a positive effect on underlying diseases. With the increased blood flow in the legs, the pain also subsides, which significantly improves the quality of life. Going for a walk every day also helps to reduce existing excess weight. Too much weight puts unnecessary strain on the legs, which is why a diet is often advisable.

In any case, a smoker’s leg patient should not only do without nicotine, but also high-fat and sweet foods. This has a positive effect on the underlying diseases. Further, the patient should drink plenty of water to thin his blood. This prevents the formation of clots, which are a dreaded complication of smoker’s leg.

Smoker’s Leg (Window Sickness)