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Heart Disease Health Center

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Peripheral Arterial Disease of the Legs - Topic Overview

How is PAD diagnosed?

Your doctor will talk with you about your symptoms and past health and will do a physical exam. During the exam, your doctor will check your pulse at your groin, behind your knee, on the inner ankle, and on the top of your foot. Your pulse shows the strength of blood flow. An absent or weak pulse in these spots is a sign of PAD. Your doctor may also look at the color of your foot when it is higher than the level of your heart and after exercise. The color of your foot can be a clue to whether enough blood is getting through your arteries.

You will likely have a test that compares the blood pressure in your legs with the blood pressure in your arms. This test is called an ankle-brachial index. A test called an arterial Doppler ultrasound may be done to check the blood flow in your arteries.

Blood tests to check your cholesterol and blood sugar can tell whether you may have other problems related to PAD, such as high cholesterol and diabetes.

How is it treated?

Treatment for PAD relies mainly on healthy lifestyle changes and taking care to manage high blood pressure and cholesterol. You may need medicines to ease symptoms or to manage other health problems. In some cases, you may need surgery or a procedure called angioplasty.

When you have PAD, you have a high risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Making healthy changes along with taking medicines can help reduce this risk.

Lifestyle changes

  • If you smoke, quit. It's one of the most important things you can do. If you need help, talk to your doctor about programs and medicines that can help you stop.
  • Eat healthy foods.
  • Follow an exercise program.
  • Manage your cholesterol and blood pressure if they are high. You may need medicines to help you do this.
  • If you have diabetes, keep your blood sugar in a target range.
  • Lose weight if you need to, and maintain a healthy weight.

Your doctor may suggest that you attend a cardiac rehabilitation (rehab) program. In cardiac rehab, you will get education and support to help you make new, healthy habits.

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