Information Screening Peripheral Arterial Disease

Peripheral arterial disease can cause immediate problems such as pain and numbness in the legs, or it may indicate far more serious coronary problems. People with peripheral arterial disease are four times more likely than their peers to die of heart disease. Peripheral arterial disease also makes a person two to six times more likely to die of a heart-related death, as reported by the Peripheral Arterial Disease Coalition (2007).

Many cases of peripheral arterial disease are asymptomatic, while others cause general symptoms like numbness or cramping in the legs. These symptoms are often dismissed as indicative of a less serious condition, so health screening for peripheral arterial disease is important, especially if you’re in a high-risk category. Early detection and treatment could save your life.

What is Peripheral Arterial Disease?

Peripheral arterial disease is the narrowing of peripheral arteries, usually in the pelvis or legs. This limits blood flow to the limbs, causing numbness, pain and eventual tissue death.

Peripheral arterial disease is usually a sign of hardening arteries elsewhere in the body, a condition called atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis puts a person at high risk for heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

Who is at Risk for Peripheral Arterial Disease?

Some people have a higher risk of developing peripheral arterial disease than others. Risk factors include:

  • Being obese
  • Being over age 65
  • Consuming excessive amounts of alcohol
  • Exercising fewer than three times per week, for 20 to 30 minutes at a time
  • Having a family history of peripheral arterial disease
  • Having a poor diet
  • Having heart disease
  • Having high blood pressure or high cholesterol
  • Smoking.

How Does Peripheral Arterial Disease Screening Work?

If you meet one or more of the above risk factors, you should get a health screening for the condition. Since leg pain is so often attributed to minor illnesses, you may be tempted to ignore it. Doing so, however, could put you at a higher risk for heart disease or stroke.

If the medical screening test indicates the presence of peripheral arterial disease, you can begin treatment before it becomes life threatening.

Health screening for peripheral arterial disease involves measuring your ankle-brachial index (ABI), the ratio of the pressure in your arms to the pressure in your legs.

The procedure is quick, non-invasive and painless. A technician asks you to remove your socks and shoes before placing a cuff on your ankles and upper arms to measure your blood pressure. To make the medical screening test easier, wear a short-sleeve shirt and don’t wear pantyhose to the screening.

Preventing Peripheral Arterial Disease

A healthy lifestyle is the best way to prevent peripheral arterial disease. Maintain a healthy weight by exercising regularly and following a diet that’s low in saturated fat. If you have high blood pressure or cholesterol levels, talk to your doctor about lowering these. People with diabetes should keep their blood sugar controlled to avoid developing peripheral arterial disease. If you smoke, consider quitting.


American Heart Association. (2010). About peripheral artery disease (PAD). Retrieved August 26, 2010, from

LifeLine Screening. (n.d.). Peripheral arterial disease/ABI screeningM. Retrieved August 26, 2010, from

Mayo Clinic. (2010). Peripheral artery disease (PAD). Retrieved August 26, 2010, from

Peripheral Arterial Disease Coalition. (2007). Gaps in public knowledge of peripheral arterial disease: The first national P.A.D. public awareness survey. Retrieved September 3, 2010, from