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Peripheral arterial disease (PAD)
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Peripheral arterial disease (PAD)

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Heart Disease

When to seek medical advice

More than half the people with PAD experience leg pain, numbness or other symptoms, but many people dismiss these symptoms as a "normal part of aging" and don't seek medical help. Only about half of people with symptoms have been diagnosed and are seeing a doctor for treatment.

If you have signs or symptoms of PAD — or risk factors for PAD — talk to your doctor. Early diagnosis and treatment of PAD is important because it can decrease your risk of heart disease, stroke and other health problems.

Screening and diagnosis

Your doctor may find signs of PAD 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 can be heard with a stethoscope

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

  • Decreased blood pressure in your affected limb

Your doctor may also rely on one or more of the following tests to diagnose PAD:

  • Ankle-brachial index (ABI). This diagnostic test compares the blood pressure in your ankle with the blood pressure in your arm. The systolic blood pressure reading in your ankle is divided by the systolic blood pressure reading in your arm to determine where you fall on the ABI. The systolic number is the top number in your blood pressure reading. It measures the amount of pressure your heart generates when pumping blood out through your arteries. Most people with intermittent claudication have an ABI between 0.3 and 0.9. To get a blood pressure reading, your doctor will use a regular blood pressure cuff and a special ultrasound device that is used to evaluate blood flow (Doppler ultrasound). You may be asked to walk on a treadmill and have readings taken before and immediately after exercising in order to capture the severity of the narrowed arteries during walking.

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG). An electrocardiogram is a diagnostic test in which electrode patches are attached to your skin to measure electrical impulses given off by your heart. Your doctor may monitor an ECG during and after the treadmill test.

  • Doppler ultrasound. Your doctor may also use Doppler ultrasound to measure your blood pressure at various points in your leg or arm. This can help determine the level and degree of PAD.

  • Magnetic resonance angiography. This type of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is another noninvasive way for your doctor to evaluate your arteries.


In rare cases, PAD can lead to open sores, ulcers, gangrene, or injury or infection of your feet and legs. In extreme cases, amputation may be necessary.

The atherosclerosis that causes PAD could also be building up in other arteries. As a result, people with PAD have a greater risk of coronary artery disease and stroke.



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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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Last Modified : 03/15/08 01:46 AM