Peripheral Artery Disease

Medically reviewed by Carina Fung, PharmD, BCPPS

Peripheral Artery Disease Diagnosis

Peripheral artery disease test

It is important to see your healthcare provider if you have any of the signs and symptoms of peripheral artery disease, as many people often mistake the symptoms of PAD for something else. Because of this, peripheral artery disease often goes undiagnosed by healthcare professionals.

Many people dismiss leg pain as a normal sign of aging, attributing it to arthritis21, sciatica22, or the “stiffness” that comes with getting older. People with diabetes might confuse the pain caused by PAD with neuropathy23—a common diabetic symptom characterized by burning or painful discomfort of the feet or thighs.

If you experience any kind of recurrent pain, you should seek diagnosis and treatment from a healthcare professional. Describing your pain as accurately as possible will allow him or her to determine the proper course of action. If you have any of the risk factors for PAD, it may be a good idea to ask him or her about the condition, even if you aren’t experiencing any symptoms.

In order to diagnose24 peripheral artery disease, your healthcare provider will likely begin by conducting a physical exam. He or she may find signs of PAD this way, such as a weak or absent pulse below a narrowed area of your artery, whooshing sounds called bruits25 (audible vascular sounds associated with turbulent blood flow) that can be heard with a stethoscope, evidence of poor wound healing in the area where your blood flow is restricted, and decreased blood pressure in your affected limb.

Healthcare providers may also rely on several other tests to diagnose PAD:

  • Ankle-brachial index26 (ABI): ABIs are commonly used to diagnose PAD. This test uses a blood pressure cuff and an ultrasound device to compare the blood pressure in your ankle to the blood pressure in your arm. You may walk on a treadmill and have readings taken before and immediately after exercising to capture the severity of the narrowed arteries during walking.
  • Ultrasound: Special ultrasound27 imaging techniques (such as Doppler ultrasound28) can help your healthcare provider evaluate blood flow through your blood vessels and identify blocked or narrowed arteries.
  • Angiography: Angiography, or a peripheral angiogram29, uses a contrast material (dye) injected into the blood vessels, allowing a provider to view blood flow through the arteries in real-time. He or she can trace the flow of the contrast material using imaging techniques like X-ray imaging or procedures called magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) or computerized tomography angiography (CTA).
  • Catheter angiography30:This procedure is more invasive than a peripheral angiogram. It requires guiding a catheter through an artery in the groin to the affected area and then injecting a contrast dye. While invasive, this type of angiography allows for simultaneous diagnosis and treatment—after finding the narrowed area of a blood vessel, your provider can then widen it by inserting and expanding a tiny balloon or by administering a medication that improves blood flow.
  • Computerized tomography angiography31 (CTA): This non-invasive test can show the arteries in the abdomen, pelvis, and legs and is particularly useful in patients with pacemakers or stents.
  • Magnetic resonance angiography32 (MRA):
  • Blood tests: A blood sample can be used to measure your cholesterol and triglycerides, as well as to check for diabetes.

Disclaimer: The information on this site is generalized and is not medical advice. It is intended to supplement, not substitute for, the expertise and judgment of your healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard seeking advice or delay in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our site. RxSaver makes no warranty as to the accuracy, reliability or completeness of this information.

If you are in crisis or you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.