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
(bruits) over your arteries that your doctor can hear with a
Evidence of poor
wound healing in the area where your blood flow is restricted
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:
A blood test can check for increased levels of cholesterol,
homocysteine or blood sugar (glucose), which are risk factors for
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
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.
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
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.
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