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Diagnosing Peripheral Artery Disease

Aug 31, 2017Peripheral Vascular Disease

Having the correct diagnosis is always critical for the proper treatment of any disease. However, with Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) it is even more important. People who have PAD symptoms are at higher risk for coronary heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and transient ischemic attack or mini-stroke.

PAD is diagnosed based on your medical and family history, a physical exam, and test results. If you have PAD, your doctor also may check for signs of additional diseases and conditions.

During your exam, your doctor will ask you whether you have any risk factors for PAD such as whether you smoke or have diabetes. The major risk factors for PAD are smoking, older age, and having certain diseases or conditions.

Your diet will also be evaluated as well as any medicines you take. Your family medical history is also considered. This includes whether anyone in your family has a history of heart or blood vessel diseases.

You will also be asked about your PAD symptoms. This includes any symptoms that occur when walking, exercising, sitting, standing, or climbing.

Peripheral Artery Disease Symptoms include:

  • Leg pain that does not go away when you stop exercising
  • Foot or toe wounds that won’t heal or heal very slowly
  • Gangrene, or dead tissue
  • A marked decrease in the temperature of your lower leg or foot particularly compared to the other leg or to the rest of your body
  • Poor nail growth on the toes or hair growth on the legs
  • Erectile dysfunction, especially in men with diabetes

Peripheral Artery Disease Exams

During the physical exam, your doctor will look for PAD symptoms. He or she may check the blood flow in your legs or feet to see whether you have weak or absent pulses. The pulses in your leg arteries receive evaluation for an abnormal whooshing sound called a bruit. A stethoscope can hear this sound. A bruit may be a warning sign of a narrowed or blocked artery.

Your doctor may compare blood pressure between your limbs to see whether the pressure is lower in the affected limb. He or she also may check for poor wound healing or any changes in your hair, skin, or nails that may be signs of PAD.

Diagnostic tests performed can compare blood pressure in your ankle to blood pressure in your arm. This test shows how well blood is flowing in your limbs. ABI can show whether PAD is affecting your limbs, but it won’t show which blood vessels are narrow or blocked.

Although a primary care doctor, such as an internist or family practitioner may diagnose you with PAD. You then may be referred to a vascular specialist for further treatment, especially if you have advanced PAD. A vascular surgeon specializes in treating blood vessel diseases and conditions.

If you are diagnosed with PAD, the good news there are several treatment plans available. PAD is medically treated with prescribed medications. These medications treat high cholesterol, control blood pressure. They also aim to prevent the buildup of plaque or formation of blood clots.

However, if you have advanced PAD and medication and lifestyle changes have not given relief, there are several treatment options available including minimally invasive interventional radiology procedures. For additional information, please click here.