Blood vessels such as veins and arteries, which carry blood to and from the heart, may be damaged or blocked in peripheral areas such as the legs and arms. This is called peripheral arterial disease (in the arteries) or peripheral venous disease (in the veins)– PAD and PVD, for short.

Patients with this disorder may experience cramping or weakness when climbing stairs or exercising. This indicates that the muscles aren’t getting enough blood.

To diagnose PAD or PVD, Dr. Diego uses vascular studies such as the ankle-brachial index; CT (computerized tomography) angiography; ultrasound (duplex Doppler) imaging; magnetic resonance angiography; or angiography.

  • Ankle-brachial index (ABI) is a test to compare the blood pressure in the feet with the pressure in the arms. Relatively lower blood pressure (less than 50%) in the ankle may indicate some obstruction in the blood flow to the legs.
  • Computerized tomographic (CT) angiography enables the doctor to ‘see’ the arteries in the legs, pelvis, arms, and abdomen.
  • Doppler ultrasound (duplex) imaging depicts the artery by using sound waves, and can measure the blood flow in a vessel to determine whether there is occlusion (blockage).
  • Magnetic resonance angiography is similar to an MRI, except that it focuses on blood vessels.
  • Angiography is often used to treat blocked blood vessels as well as diagnose them. A peripheral angiogram focuses on blood vessels in the arms and legs.

PAD and PVD are caused by a narrowing of the arteries due to a build-up of plaque. This is a waxy substance made of fat and cholesterol that can partially or completely block the flow of blood to the tissues.

Risk factors for PAD or PVD include smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease or stroke.

If symptoms do present themselves, the patient may complain of a feeling of heaviness when he or she is exercising. The doctor or nurse may fail to find a strong pulse in the extremities. Sometimes sores develop on the toes or feet, and the skin becomes pale. The doctor may also notice that the temperature is higher in one leg than the other; hair and nails don’t grow as well on the affected side.

If a man has PAD and erectile dysfunction as well as diabetes, he is considered a strong risk for heart attack or stroke.