Peripheral artery disease: Do I have the disease?

The usual indication of peripheral artery disease affecting the lower extremities is painful muscle cramping in the calves, thighs or hips while climbing stairs, walking or exercising.

This pain often settles when activity is stopped, but it might take a few minutes. Remember that working muscles require more blood flow while the resting ones can work with less.


Leg pain that does not cease to settle when activity is stopped.

In case there is a blockage to the blood flow due to the buildup of plaque, the muscles will not receive enough blood during activity to comply with the bodily needs. The cramping discomfort if due to peripheral artery disease is how the muscles warn the body that it is not getting enough blood during activity to meet with the increased demand.

Other indications of peripheral artery disease

  • Leg pain that does not cease to settle when activity is stopped
  • Gangrene or dead tissue
  • Foot or toe wounds which do not heal or recuperate at a slow rate
  • Diminished drop in the lower leg or foot temperature if likened to the other leg or to the entire body
  • Poor nail growth on the toes or hair growth in the legs
  • Erectile dysfunction particularly among men with diabetes

Close look on leg pain

Many individuals might set aside leg pain as a usual sign of the aging process. For an accurate diagnosis, it is vital to consider the root of the pain. Leg pain due to peripheral artery disease arises in the muscles.

Individuals with diabetes might confuse the condition with neuropathy. If the individual experiences any form of recurring pain, a doctor must be consulted and describe the pain as accurately as possible. If the individual has any of the risk factors, a doctor must be consulted about the condition even if there no symptoms present.

How is it diagnosed?

A diagnosis of peripheral artery disease starts with a physical exam. The doctor will ask about the symptoms that are present.

The doctor will check for any weak pulses in the legs. The physical exam might include the ankle-brachial index (ABI) which is a painless test that relates the blood pressure in the feet to the level in the arms to determine how well the blood flows. Generally, the ankle pressure is at least 90% of the arm pressure. In case severe narrowing is present, it might be lower than 50%.

If the ABI shows an erratic ratio between the blood pressure of the ankle and arm, further testing is needed. The doctor might suggest the following tests:

  • Doppler and ultrasound imaging – this is a non-invasive technique that envisions the artery using sound waves and determines the blood flow in an artery to determine the presence of a blockage.
  • Computer tomographic angiography – this is a non-invasive test that shows the arteries in the legs, abdomen and pelvis. The test is beneficial for individuals with a pacemaker or stents.
  • Magnetic resonance angiography
  • Angiography – a contrast agent is administered into the artery and an X-ray is taken to reveal the blood flow, arteries in the legs and to determine any blockages present.

If peripheral artery disease is not properly treated, it can be dangerous since it can lead to sore symptoms or even the loss of a leg. In addition, those with the disease face a high risk for stroke, coronary artery disease and heart attack.