Peripheral Artery Disease: Should You Be Tested?

Monday, 18 Mar 2013 09:52 AM

By David Brownstein, M.D.

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Peripheral artery disease occurs when the blood flow to the legs is reduced. It is usually caused by atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) in the vessels leading to the legs.

Peripheral artery disease can also be a sign of atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries. Risk factors include:

• Age over 50 years
• Cigarette smoking
• Diabetes
• Family history of peripheral artery disease
• High cholesterol levels
• High levels of homocysteine
• Hypertension
• Obesity

Peripheral artery disease can cause serious problems, including restriction of blood supply to the limbs (called ischemia), which can lead to gangrene, amputation, or even death.

Still, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends against screening for peripheral
artery disease because no studies have shown mass screening improves major health outcomes.

Furthermore, the task force found that screening for asymptomatic peripheral artery disease leads to a significant number of false-positive results, which result in unnecessary procedures, such as diagnostic tests (catheterization and angiography) and treatment (antithrombotics, angioplasty, bypass surgery) that can do more harm than good.

If you have leg pain when walking, get a thorough physical exam from a healthcare provider. They should palpate the arteries in your extremities and listen for abnormal blood flow with a stethoscope. Only then should diagnostic tests, such as an ultrasound, be ordered.

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