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
(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:
(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.
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
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.
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.
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.