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Diagnosing PAD

If you have any symptoms of peripheral artery disease (PAD), contact a health care provider. Some other health conditions, such as nerve problems, have similar symptoms.

If you do have PAD, treating it early can help keep it well-managed and reduce your risk of complications like chronic leg pain, non-healing wounds and amputations. Treatment can also help you keep moving and improve your quality of life.

If you are at risk for PAD because of smoking, diabetes or high blood pressure, be sure to have regular checkups. That way, you can take steps to prevent PAD.

If your provider spots early signs of PAD, they can make recommendations to improve your blood flow and prevent more damage to your arteries. Plus, PAD is linked with a higher risk of heart attack and stroke. Finding and treating PAD early can reduce your risk of these serious health conditions.

How is PAD Diagnosed? 

When diagnosing PAD, your provider will review your medical history and check your legs and feet for a weak pulse, poor blood flow, swelling or sores. They may also recommend these tests:

  • Ankle-brachial index (ABI): In this test, a health care provider measures the blood pressure in your ankles and arms. With these readings, they can check your blood flow and identify possible places where your arteries could be narrow or blocked.
  • Doppler ultrasound: This painless test uses sound waves to create images of the blood flow in your arteries. It can show the speed and direction of blood flow, so it’s helpful in finding blockages, narrowing or other issues in the arteries, especially in the legs.
  • Angiography: With this test, a provider injects a contrast dye into your blood vessels so they can be seen on X-ray. It helps show narrow areas, blockages and other problems. Angiography is often used along with other tests to give a more complete picture of the blood vessels. 
  • Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA): This test uses magnetic fields and radio waves to create high-resolution images of blood vessels without the need for X-rays or contrast dye.
  • CT angiography: This test takes cross-section views of the blood vessels in various parts of the body and combines them into 3D images that can help spot blockages, narrowing or other problems.
  • Walking test: Measuring how far you can walk in six minutes can show how PAD affects your day-to-day functioning.
  • Blood tests: Conditions that may put you at higher risk for PAD, like high cholesterol, triglycerides and blood sugar, can be measured on blood tests.

Stages of PAD

Your health care provider may stage your PAD on this scale:

  • I: No symptoms (asymptomatic)
  • IIa: Mild leg pain when exercising
  • IIb: Moderate to severe leg pain when exercising
  • III: Leg pain when at rest (ischemic rest pain)
  • IV: Tissue damage (ulcers or gangrene)

Depending on your stage of PAD your provider can recommend the best type of treatments for you.

Learn about peripheral artery disease treatments