Peripheral Arterial Disease Screening: Understanding The Basics

Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) occurs when the arteries supplying blood to the legs are clogged. This usually happens when plaque builds up in large and medium-sized arteries – constricting the flow of blood to the legs and feet.

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, more than 8 million Americans over the age of 40 have PAD. When you’re diagnosed with PAD, it can cause pain to the lower extremities.

Also referred to as Peripheral Artery Disease, this disease hardens the arteries in the limbs. When PAD is detected in your legs and feet, there’s a high chance it’s already happened in other areas of the body. Peripheral Arterial Disease Screening identifies these possible ailments already developing in your body.

What Happens During a Peripheral Arterial Disease Screening?

There are many ways to detect if you have Peripheral Arterial Disease.

The most common test is using the ankle-brachial index (ABI), a non-invasive procedure wherein blood pressure cuffs are attached to your bare feet. As the name suggests, it’s placed around the ankles. These cuffs are equipped with a small ultrasound device that measures the limb’s systolic blood pressure.

Another set of cuffs will also be placed on your upper arms.

This screening compares the blood pressure details taken from your upper and lower limbs with a calculation called the ABI. Whether the ABI is beyond the 1.0 to 1.3 normal range or not determines if you have PAD.

These results are shared with your physician. That way, they can determine what to do to ensure that your PAD won’t get worse.

Other PAD Testing Methods

Apart from the ABI, there are other ways to test for PAD.

  • Angiography: This is a procedure wherein dye is injected into the bloodstream. It helps physicians evaluate the blood flow in arteries. They use imaging techniques like MRAs (magnetic resonance angiography) and X-rays to view the flow. This is one way they can detect if there’s a buildup in plaque anywhere in your arteries.

  • Blood tests: There are blood tests that specifically check for cholesterol levels. If the cholesterol level is high, it could put you at high risk for PAD.

  • Catheter angiography: This is a type of invasive angiography procedure. It involves the use of a catheter (small tube) that’s inserted through an artery in your groin. The hollow tube goes all the way to the affected area. The dye is injected, and if a problem is detected, the physician can correct it by inserting a tiny balloon through the same tube to expand the artery, or administering medication to improve the flow of blood.

  • Physical exam: Sometimes, when physicians conduct a physical exam, it’s possible for them to detect signs of PAD. For instance, a weak pulse could be an indication. Physicians can also use a stethoscope to listen for whooshing sounds over arteries. Even the slow healing of wounds can be considered a sign of PAD.

  • Ultrasound: The Doppler ultrasound can also be used to check the flow of blood. There are physicians who can identify if an artery is blocked or is narrower than it should be.

Why is Peripheral Arterial Disease Dangerous?

If you have diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and you’re a smoker, these are enough reasons to get a Peripheral Arterial Disease screening.

Why? Because people diagnosed with PAD are more likely to have a stroke or develop serious heart ailments. Since the test is non-invasive, it should be easy for you to get one. The earlier the diagnosis, the easier it is to treat. Hopefully, you can reverse the negative effects as early as possible.

Think of it as a preventive health screening. You can at least eliminate one factor that can lead to a serious cardiovascular disease.

Warning Signs That a PAD Screening Is Necessary

Apart from the causes mentioned above, there are specific warning signs you need to pay attention to. These are the following:

  • Leg pain that only goes away when you’re resting.
  • The skin over the lower extremities feels cool when you touch it.
  • Shiny and smooth skin on lower extremities (legs and feet).
  • Wounds that take too long to heal.
  • Persistent leg pain with a tingling or burning sensation.
  • Loss of sensation in areas of the leg.

If you get any of these symptoms, it’s best to get Peripheral Arterial Disease screening immediately.

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