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Atherosclerosis - Coronary artery disease
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Atherosclerosis - Coronary artery disease


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Heart Disease

Screening and diagnosis

Your doctor may find signs of narrowed, enlarged or hardened arteries during a physical examination. These include:

  • A weak or absent pulse below the narrowed area of your artery

  • Whooshing sounds (bruits) over your arteries that your doctor can hear with a stethoscope

  • Evidence of poor wound healing in the area where your blood flow is restricted

  • Decreased blood pressure in an affected limb

  • Signs of a pulsating bulge (aneurysm) in your abdomen or behind your knee

Your doctor may suggest one or more of the following tests to identify the disease or its symptoms:

  • Blood tests. A blood test can check for increased levels of cholesterol, homocysteine or blood sugar (glucose), which are risk factors for the disease.

  • Ankle-brachial index (ABI). By using a regular blood pressure cuff and a special ultrasound device that is used to evaluate blood flow (Doppler ultrasound), your doctor can measure the blood pressure in your ankle and your arm and determine where you fall on the ABI. An abnormal difference between the blood pressure of your ankle and arm indicates peripheral arterial disease, which is usually caused by atherosclerosis.

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG). An electrocardiogram is a diagnostic test in which electrode patches are attached to your skin to measure electrical impulses from your heart. An ECG can also detect previous heart attacks in some people. Your doctor may monitor an ECG during and after a treadmill test.

  • Imaging. Chest X-rays, ultrasounds, computerized tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are noninvasive ways for your doctor to look at your arteries to see if there is any blockage and how much. These tests can often show hardening and narrowing of large arteries, as well as aneurysms and calcium deposits in your artery walls.

  • Doppler ultrasound. Your doctor may also use Doppler ultrasound to see the arteries throughout your body and measure your blood pressure at various points along your leg or arm. This can help measure the amount of blockage and the speed of blood flow in your arteries.


When your arteries narrow, tissues supplied by an affected artery don't receive enough blood, particularly during exercise, when demand is greatest. This can result in injury to your organs, heart attack, stroke or other serious arterial diseases.

Aneurysms are another serious complication. They can cause low back pain or knee pain, and larger aneurysms can rupture, causing life-threatening internal bleeding. This is usually a sudden, catastrophic event, but it can be a slow leak. Aortic aneurysms can also house small blood clots, which may dislodge and travel with the blood flow, obstructing an artery at some distant point — a condition called an embolism.

Poor arterial circulation can also blunt sensation to heat or cold, making you more susceptible to damage from both burns and freezing. In rare cases, poor circulation to your extremities can also cause tissue death (gangrene) and may require amputation.

Arteriosclerosis / Atherosclerosis > 1 > 2 > 3 > 4 >

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This information is provided for general medical education purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician relative to diagnostic and treatment options of a specific patient's medical condition.
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