Diagnosis of peripheral artery disease (PAD) begins with careful attention to your own health. Primary care physicians may not routinely check for PAD, so if you have symptoms of PAD and even if you don’t but are concerned that you might be at risk for PAD, take charge of your health and make an appointment to discuss it with your doctor.
Office Visit with Your Doctor
To diagnose and develop a treatment plan for PAD, your physician may ask you:
- about your medical history, including whether you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes
- if you have a history of heart disease in your family
- about your symptoms, such as pain or heaviness in your legs muscles during exercise
- if you smoke or have ever smoked
- to name or provide a list of any medications you take
- what you eat
During the physical exam for PAD, your doctor may also:
- check your ankle-brachial index (ABI) — a quick, painless, non-invasive test that compares the blood pressure in your arms and legs to determine if you have PAD. Even if you do not specifically ask about PAD, your doctor may recommend an ABI based on your medical history and physical exam. The ABI is so simple to perform and yields so much information about your arteries, there’s really nothing to lose and everything to gain from having it checked as often as necessary to determine if you have blockages or if they are getting worse.
- listen with a stethoscope for any abnormal sounds of turbulent blood flow in your legs that may indicate a narrow or blocked artery
- evaluate the strength of the pulse in your legs and feet
- examine your legs and feet for wounds and if you have any, ask for details about how they have been healing
- check for changes in your nails, skin, and hair loss on the legs and feet
While no blood tests are needed to diagnose PAD, your doctor may still check for the following:
- high blood sugar and cholesterol, both risk factors for PAD to be monitored and managed
- kidney function because restricted or blocked blood flow to your kidneys, or kidney (renal) artery disease, could cause kidney failure
Once your doctor has gathered all the information from your medical history, physical examination and ABI, he or she can determine if you have PAD and if additional diagnostic testing is necessary to determine its severity.
To help you understand how healthcare providers diagnose PAD, the doctors and nurses at SecondsCount have created a flowchart to walks you through the process. You can view, or even download, it here.