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Heart Disease Health Center

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Peripheral Vascular Disease

Exams and Tests

Tests your doctor may use to identify or rule out PVD include:

Edinburgh Claudication Questionnaire:This is a test used by many medical professionals to diagnose peripheral artery  disease. It is a series of 6 questions and a pain diagram. It is accurate at diagnosing PAD in people with symptoms up to about 90% of the time.

Ankle/brachial index (ABI): This is one of the most widely used tests for a person who has symptoms suggesting intermittent claudication -- pain associated with PVD that comes and goes as a result of narrowed blood vessels.

  • This test compares the blood pressure in the arm (brachial) with the blood pressure in the legs.
  • In a person with healthy blood vessels, the pressure should be higher in the legs than in the arms.
  • An ABI above 0.90 is normal; 0.71-0.90 indicates mild PVD; 0.41-0.70 indicates moderate disease; and less than 0.40 indicates severe PVD.

Treadmill exercise test: If necessary, the ABI will be followed by a treadmill exercise test. 

  • Blood pressures in your arms and legs will be taken before and after exercise (walking on a treadmill, usually until you have symptoms).
  • A significant drop in leg blood pressures and ABIs after exercise suggests PVD.
  • Alternative tests are available if you are unable to walk on a treadmill.
  • If the leg pulse can't be felt, the use of a portable Doppler flow probe will quickly reveal the absence or presence of an arterial flow.

To help locate blockages in your blood vessels, any of several tests, such as angiography, ultrasonography, or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), can be used. 

Angiography, or arteriography, is a type of X-ray. Angiography has for many years been considered the best test available and has been used to guide further treatment and surgery. However, imaging techniques, such as ultrasonography and MRI, are preferred more and more because they are less invasive and work just as well.

  • Angiography uses a dye injected into the arteries to highlight blockages and narrowing of arteries. If you have diabetes or have kidney damage, the dye could cause further damage to your kidneys and, rarely, cause acute renal or kidney failure requiring dialysis.
  • Certain treatments for blocked arteries, such as angioplasty, can be performed at the same time as the test. A specialist called an interventional radiologist or an invasive cardiologist can perform these treatments.
  • With ultrasonograpy or MRI, angioplasty cannot be done.

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