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Peripheral artery disease

Diagnosis of peripheral artery disease

Your doctor at Dignity Health will perform a physical exam to begin an assessment for PAD. Many signs of PAD are apparent through this examination, including swelling, discoloration, no or a weak pulse in your lower extremities, and evidence that cuts and sores on your lower leg or foot aren’t healing.

The most common diagnostic test after a physical exam is called an ankle-brachial index (ABI), which compares blood pressure readings in your foot and arm after exercise. If these numbers are different, it indicates reduced blood flow in your feet.

An ultrasound can also provide a more accurate picture of how the blood is moving through your arteries, identifying potential blocks. CT scans are also often used, typically with a dye-based contrast (called angiography).

You may need to have a blood test or undergo imaging such as an MRI as well.


Once you are diagnosed with PAD, your doctor is likely to recommend a specific course of treatment. Treatment will be based on the severity and specific cause of your PAD. The goal of this treatment is to improve blood flow and prevent blood clots from forming in your legs (which can cause a stroke if they dislodge and travel elsewhere in the body).

Lifestyle changes such as increased exercise and stopping smoking can improve blood flow.

You may also need to take prescription medications to prevent blood clots and reduce your cholesterol and blood pressure. Common medications prescribed for PAD include statins (which lower your cholesterol), antiplatelet medications such as aspirin (which reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke), and antihypertensive medications (which reduce your blood pressure). 

Depending on how severe your PAD is, you may need to undergo a procedure such as angioplasty to open blocked blood vessels in your legs and restore your blood flow, or stent placement to open the artery and keep it open. Both of these procedures are commonly used to treat patients with heart disease and are minimally invasive.

If you have very severe PAD affecting a large portion of one of your arteries, your doctor may suggest a bypass, surgery in which a vein from another part of your body is inserted and used to go around the blocked artery.


PAD cannot be cured. However, in many cases, treatment can dramatically slow the progression and reduce or even eliminate symptoms. Dignity Health provides patients with personalized care and treatment for peripheral artery disease.

Find your nearest Dignity Health location to get care for PAD.

The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.