Ahimastos said that for some people, the improvement could mean the difference between being able to run an errand close to home or needing to have someone else do it.
In the United States, about 8 million people have PAD, which usually arises when atherosclerosis, a hardening and narrowing of the arteries, restricts blood flow to the legs. The main symptoms are leg pain or cramps that arise during walking or other normal activities -- though not everyone with PAD has that problem.
Right now, there are two drugs approved in the United States for boosting PAD patients' walking ability: pentoxifylline (Pentoxil, Trental) and cilostazol (Pletal), which typically only increase people's walking distance by about 15 to 25 percent.
Ramipril is an ACE inhibitor -- a group of drugs used for high blood pressure and chronic heart failure. It's not clear why the medication would improve walking ability, but it may be due to improved blood circulation or better muscle function, according to Ahimastos.
Another unknown is whether other ACE inhibitors could help treat PAD, because the drugs vary in how they act in the body.
"They are not all identical," McDermott said. Based on animal research, she added, some ACE inhibitors may affect muscle function, while others may not.
No one knows whether other blood pressure drugs might help, either. McDermott said that one other class of blood pressure drug -- angiotensin II receptor blockers -- may affect muscle function.
But that's based on lab research, and McDermott said it's too early to tell whether the medications, which include brand-names like Diovan and Benicar, might help people with PAD.
It's also hard to know how many people with PAD and walking problems could benefit from ramipril. The patients in the new study had fairly well-controlled blood pressure, and most were free of diab
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