How is PAD detected?

Talk to your doctor if you are having symptoms of PAD so the cause of your symptoms can be identified and treatment can be initiated as soon as possible. Early detection of PAD is important so the right treatments can be provided before the disease becomes severe enough to lead to complications, such as heart attack or stroke.

A physical exam will be performed and your medical history and risk factors will be reviewed. Your doctor may order certain tests to help diagnose PAD and determine the severity of the disease.

  • The ankle/brachial index (ABI) is a measurement of the blood pressure in the lower legs compared to the blood pressure in the arms. During this test, blood pressure cuffs are placed on the arms and legs. The cuffs are inflated, while a hand-held device (called a Doppler) is used to listen to the blood flow. The ABI screening helps evaluate the amount of blood flow to the legs and feet, which is decreased in a person with PAD. It is a highly accurate method for detecting PAD.
  • A pulse volume recording (PVR) is a noninvasive test that measures the blood volume changes that occur in the legs. During this test, a blood pressure cuff is placed on the arm and multiple cuffs are placed on the legs. The cuffs are inflated slightly while the patient is lying down. As blood pulses through the arteries, the blood vessels expand, causing an increase or decrease in the volume of air within the cuff. A recording device displays these pulse volume changes as a waveform on a monitor. Blood pressures are measured before and after exercise on a treadmill and help define if the pain is due to PAD or other causes. The PVR test also helps locate the area of blockages in the legs.
  • A vascular ultrasound is a noninvasive test used to examine blood circulation. During a vascular ultrasound, a transducer (small hand- held device) is placed on the skin over the artery to be examined. The transducer emits sound waves that bounce off the artery. These sound waves are recorded, and an image of the vessel is created and displayed on a monitor. This test may be used to detect a blockage in an artery.

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