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What is a Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) Test?

peripheral artery disease test

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a narrowing of the arteries in the legs that can cause pain, numbness, and weakness in the legs. It can also lead to serious complications, such as amputation. However, PAD can be diagnosed and treated early with a simple test called an ankle-brachial index (ABI) test.

PAD is a condition that happens when plaque builds up in the arteries in your legs and feet. This plaque can block the flow of blood, which can cause pain, numbness, and weakness in your legs. If you have any of the risk factors for PAD, or you are 50 years old or older, it’s a good idea to undergo a peripheral artery disease test.

For more information on whether you might be at risk for and what treatments can help you, schedule a consultation with one of our specialized vascular doctors at USA Vascular Centers.

At USA Vascular Centers, our doctors are highly skilled in treating PAD. We’ll conduct a peripheral artery disease test and put together a personalized treatment plan to address your symptoms, potentially including outpatient procedures to help widen any narrowed arteries. With over 40 locations in the United States, we’re always ready to help improve your vascular health.

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How Do You Test For Peripheral Artery Disease?

Peripheral artery disease testing often consists of a physical exam, bloodwork, an ankle-brachial index (ABI) test, and an angiogram. During a physical peripheral artery disease test, the doctor will examine your feet and legs, looking for signs of ulcers, wounds that aren’t healing, and changes in skin color or temperature. The strength of the two pulses that should be present in each foot is also evaluated.

The physician usually orders blood testing to help detect signs of diabetes, high cholesterol, and kidney disease, which can all contribute to PAD.

Ankle-Brachial Index Test (ABI)

An ankle-brachial index test is a widely used method of testing to check for signs of PAD. The ABI test is a quick and painless way to diagnose PAD. It is usually done in a doctor’s office. To perform the ABI test, the doctor will wrap a blood pressure cuff around your ankle and arm. The doctor will then inflate the cuff and measure the blood pressure in each location. The ABI is calculated by dividing the blood pressure in your ankle by the blood pressure in your arm.

If you have an ABI of less than 0.9, you may have PAD. However, it is important to note that a normal ABI does not rule out PAD.

Ultrasound

This type of medical imaging uses sound waves to create images of the inside of your body. A small, hand-held device called a transducer or probe is placed on your skin. The transducer sends sound waves into your body and receives the echoes. A computer then uses these echoes to create images of your arteries.

Ultrasound can be used to diagnose PAD by looking for narrowing or blockages in the arteries. It can also be used to measure blood flow in the arteries. This information can help your doctor determine the severity of your PAD and whether you need treatment.

Ultrasound is a safe and painless procedure. It is often used as a first-line test for PAD because it is non-invasive and does not require any radiation.

Angiography

An angiography, also called angiogram or arteriograms, is a minimally invasive test that can help doctors diagnose peripheral artery disease (PAD). It uses a small catheter, X-ray imaging, and contrast dye to pinpoint the location of a blockage in an artery.

The catheter is inserted into a blood vessel in the groin or arm. The dye is then injected through the catheter into the artery. The dye makes the blood vessels visible on X-ray images. This allows the doctors to see where the blockage is located and how severe it is.. The procedure is usually done under local anesthesia, so you will be awake during the test.

Angiograms are a safe and effective way to diagnose PAD. They can also be used to guide other procedures, such as angioplasty or stenting.

At USA Vascular Centers, our expert vascular specialists perform angiograms in our state-of-the-art cath lab. We use the latest technology and techniques to ensure that your angiogram is accurate and safe.

How Long Does a Peripheral Artery Disease Test Take?

Most tests for peripheral artery disease (PAD) are quick and easy to do.

  • Physical exam: This test takes just a few minutes. The doctor will check your feet for color, temperature, and pulses. They may also ask you to walk on your heels and toes to check for weakness or pain.
  • Ankle-brachial index (ABI) test: This test measures the blood pressure in your ankle and arm. It takes about 10 to 20 minutes to do.
  • Doppler ultrasound: This test uses sound waves to create images of your arteries. It takes about 30 minutes to do.
  • Angiogram: This test uses X-ray dye to visualize your arteries. It is a more invasive test and takes about 1 to three hours.

Blood testing for PAD can take longer, depending on the lab.

The doctors at USA Vascular Centers aim to make peripheral artery disease testing as comfortable as possible. We can begin discussing treatment options with you as soon as we have the results from your PAD tests.

Does a PAD Test Hurt?

A physical exam should not be painful, nor should an ankle-brachial index test. However, a peripheral artery disease ABI test can be slightly uncomfortable when the blood pressure cuff tightens on your arm and ankle.

During an angiogram, the doctor uses a tiny needle to inject an anesthetic into your groin. The anesthesia should help prevent any feelings of pain or discomfort. Still, if you are worried about this step, our specialists at USA Vascular Centers can help ease your fears or find ways to make the procedure as comfortable as possible.

How Do I Prepare for My Exam?

A good way to prepare for your PAD test is to learn what you can about peripheral artery disease. Try and take notes of your PAD risk factors, and the symptoms you might be experiencing. Understanding the stages of PAD and the most effective treatment options can help you stay informed and aware of the condition you might be dealing with. Coming prepared with information about your health history can help your doctor understand how PAD is affecting you.

It’s also helpful to talk to people who have undergone testing for PAD before. Ask them for tips to ease anxiety. They may have helpful questions to ask your doctor as well.

On the day of your tests for peripheral artery disease, dress in loose, comfortable clothing. Re-read any instructions you received from your provider. For example, if you’ll be receiving an angiogram peripheral artery disease test, you’ll need to bring a friend who can drive you home after the procedure.

Most of all, try to take deep breaths if you feel anxious. If you’re worried you’ll forget which questions to ask, write them down ahead of time. At USA Vascular Centers, our specialists perform peripheral artery disease testing all the time. They’re happy to answer any questions you might have about PAD testing, diagnosis, and treatment. No matter the result of your PAD test, we’re here to help treat your symptoms and lower the risk of serious complications.

Peripheral artery disease testing is the first step towards this goal.

Who Should Get a PAD Test?

Anyone with risk factors for PAD or symptoms of PAD should contact a vascular doctor for a peripheral artery disease test. Risk factors for PAD include a past or current smoking habit, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and a family history of arterial disease. If you have any of these risk factors, reach out to one of our vascular specialists for a peripheral artery disease test.

The most common symptom of PAD is pain or cramping in the legs during everyday activities, such as climbing a flight of stairs. Other signs of PAD include skin color or temperature changes in the legs and feet, patchy or slow-growing leg hair, leg ulcers and non-healing wounds. Remember, it’s critical to catch PAD in the early stages and start a treatment plan to address symptoms, so pay attention to your body’s signals and seek help if you suspect you may have PAD.

Peripheral artery disease testing is a safe and effective way to determine the presence of this common yet serious condition so that you can start off on the road to treatment.

How is PAD Treated?

At USA Vascular Centers, our team of vascular specialists offers three minimally invasive PAD treatments:

  • Angioplasty: A catheter is used to insert a balloon into the narrowed artery. The balloon is then inflated to widen the artery.
  • Stent placement: After angioplasty, a stent is inserted into the artery to keep it open. Stents are small, mesh tubes that help to keep the artery walls from collapsing.
  • Atherectomy: A catheter with a blade or laser is used to remove plaque from the artery. This helps to widen the artery and improve blood flow.

After PAD testing, you and your doctor can discuss these treatment options and determine which is best for you. You can also make lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking and beginning an exercise program, to help strengthen your arterial health.

Schedule a Consultation with USA Vascular Centers

At USA Vascular Centers, our specialists will help treat your PAD symptoms so you can get back to enjoying your favorite activities. If you need to undergo testing for PAD, we encourage you to schedule a consultation with one of our vascular doctors online or call us at 888.773.2193 today. Our advanced diagnosis and treatment programs can help improve your quality of life and reduce your risk of PAD complications.

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Additional FAQs

Can a Blood Test Detect Peripheral Artery Disease?

A blood test alone cannot detect peripheral artery disease. However, a blood test can tell your medical provider if you live with certain PAD risk factors. For example, an A1C test, which measures your average blood sugar level over a period of time, can detect diabetes. Diabetes is one of the most significant risk factors for developing PAD.

A blood test known as a lipid panel checks your cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Elevated cholesterol and/or triglyceride levels are a sign of elevated PAD risk.

If your doctor performs an ABI test but does not find any indication of PAD, a blood test can help measure your risk of developing it in the future. With this information, your provider can prescribe medications and lifestyle changes to help lower your PAD risk.

How Can I Test My Leg Circulation at Home?

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a condition that causes poor blood flow to the legs. There are a few ways to check for poor leg circulation at home, but it is important to see a doctor for a diagnosis.

  • Check for color changes, temperature changes, and slow-healing wounds. If your legs or feet are pale, cold, or have slow-healing wounds, it could be a sign of poor circulation.
  • Check the pulses in your feet and ankles. The pulse in your ankle is called the posterior tibial pulse. It is located just behind the ankle on the inner part of your foot. Use your pointer finger and middle finger to gently press the area, feeling for a pulse. If the pulse is weak or you can’t feel it, see a doctor.
  • Check the pedal pulse on the top of your foot. Place your pointer and middle fingers on the top of your foot. Starting just below your big toe, gently press on your skin. Move closer to the ankle until you find the pulse. If you cannot locate the pulse or the pulse is weak, see a doctor.

It is important to note that a weak or absent pulse is not necessarily a sure sign of arterial blockage. Feeling pulses can be tricky, and it is possible that you may not be able to feel a pulse even if your circulation is good. If you have any concerns about your leg circulation, see a doctor for a diagnosis.

Here are some additional tips for checking your leg circulation at home:

  • Do the checks on both legs.
  • Check your legs when they are warm.
  • If you have diabetes, check your legs more often.

However, there’s a downside to testing your leg circulation at home. A weak or absent pulse isn’t necessarily a sure sign of arterial blockage. Feeling pulses can be tricky due to a lack of experience or even differences in the anatomy of your foot. If you have any concerns, take them to a trusted medical provider or schedule a consultation for exact diagnosis.

Sources Cited:

  1. Mohler III, Emile R. “Screening for Peripheral Artery Disease.” Circulation, August 21, 2012. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.111.069211.
  2. “Peripheral Artery Disease – Exams & Tests – Cardiosmart.” Accessed June 17, 2022. https://www.cardiosmart.org/topics/peripheral-artery-disease/exams-and-tests.
  3. “Ankle Brachial Index Test.” Johns Hopkins Medicine, April 28, 2021. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/ankle-brachial-index-test. 
  4. British Heart Foundation. “What Is an Angiogram?” What is an angiogram? – Heart Matters magazine. British Heart Foundation, February 7, 2019. https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/heart-matters-magazine/medical/tests/angiogram. 
  5. Hyperarts, Rob Mayfield -. “Angiography.” Vascular & Endovascular Surgery -Angiography. Accessed June 16, 2022. https://vascularsurgery.ucsf.edu/conditions–procedures/angiography.aspx. 

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