A simple test, called the ankle-brachial index, or ABI, can quickly and painlessly determine if you likely have peripheral artery disease (PAD), which means blockages in the blood vessels leading to your legs. PAD, also referred to as peripheral vascular disease (PVD), can cause discomfort or weakness while walking and, if severe and left untreated, can potentially lead to amputation of the leg or foot.
How Does It Work?
An ABI test is among the simplest available methods of identifying blockages in arteries. Your physician will use a specialized “Doppler” stethoscope and blood pressure cuff.
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Dr. John P. Reilly from Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans, explains how an ABI test is performed.
How Is It Performed?
The ABI takes 10 to 15 minutes. It involves simply measuring the blood pressure in each of your ankles and in each of your arms. Your doctor then compares the two readings. A normal ABI reading is 1.0 (with a range of 0.9 to 1.3), which means that your legs are receiving just as much blood flow as your arms. If your blood pressure is lower in the ankle than the arm, a blockage is likely present in an artery somewhere between your heart and ankle - and, if so, you may have PAD. Because it is a simple test, the ABI can be done yearly if needed to determine if blockages are getting worse.
Is It Safe?
ABI does not pose any safety risks.
Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Ankle-Brachial Index Tests
The following questions can help you talk to your physician about an ankle-brachial index test. Print out or write down these questions and take them with you to your appointment. Taking notes can help you remember your physician’s response when you get home.
- How high is my risk for peripheral artery disease (PAD)?
- Am I a good candidate for an ankle-brachial index (ABI) test?
- What happens next if the ABI indicates possible blockages in my legs?
- What types of follow-up should I expect if my ABI is abnormal?
- Does the abnormal ABI test mean I have PAD?
- What symptoms should I look for?
- Can I continue walking, running, biking, swimming, or whatever exercise I like to do?
Please print this list of questions here. Take them with you to the doctor and share them with friends and loved ones when you are encouraging them to see their doctors.