The ankle-brachial index test is a fast and non-invasive method of checking your risk of peripheral artery disease (PAD). Peripheral artery disease is a condition in which the arteries in your legs or arms are narrowed or blocked with a build-up of plaque. If you have peripheral artery disease, you will have an increased risk of experiencing heart attacks, strokes, bad circulation and leg pain.An ankle-brachial test compares the blood pressure taken at your ankle with the blood pressure taken at your arm. If your score is a low ankle-brachial index number it can indicate a narrowing of the arteries in your legs, a blockage in the arteries, and an increased risk of having circulatory problems that lead to heart disease and stroke.
The ankle-brachial index test is sometimes recommended as part of a series of three tests. An abdominal ultrasound is sometimes used. This type of ultrasound is a type of digital imaging test. It is used to look at the organs in your abdomen. Thanks to ultrasound technology, your liver, kidneys, spleen, pancreas, and gallbladder can be examined easily and efficiently by your doctor. Your blood vessels that lead to some of these organs can also be examined more easily. Another one used is carotid ultrasound. This diagnostic test is painless and harmless. It uses high-frequency sound waves to make pictures of the insides of your carotid arteries. There are two common carotid arteries in your body, one on each side of your neck. They are divided into your internal and external carotid arteries. You would find yourself needing an ankle-brachial index test if your doctor feels the need to have your checked for peripheral artery disease.
If you are 50 years old or older and have any of the following risk factors, you should ask your doctor about getting an ankle-brachial index test:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Smoking: If you are currently smoking, or are a former smoker, it is likely you will have circulatory issues that are related to peripheral artery disease.
Even though you are already diagnosed, your doctor will recommend an ankle-brachial index test to check on the progress of your treatment. This type of diagnostic test is useful, and it will help your doctor see if your treatment is working or if your condition has gotten worse.
Exercise ankle-brachial index test
Your doctor may suggest that you undergo an exercise ankle-brachial index test if you have experienced symptoms of peripheral artery disease (leg pain while walking, numbness, coldness, etc.) This is done to determine whether your symptoms are due to PAD or other conditions, like spinal stenosis. An exercise ankle-brachial index test involves you walking on a treadmill for a short time before your ankle-brachial index is measured.
Other than wearing loose, comfortable clothing that allows the blood pressure cuffs to be easily placed on your ankle and arm, you won’t need to follow any special instruction before your appointment. Most of the time you will not experience any physical risks associated with the ankle-brachial index test. You may feel some level of discomfort from the blood pressure cuffs inflating on your arm or ankle, but this is only temporary, and it will subside when the air goes out of the cut.
If you are experiencing severe arm or leg pain, your doctor may not let you take an ankle-brachial index test. This situation would warrant the use of another type of imaging test of the arteries in your legs. You will be asked to lie on your back on a table. A technician will measure the blood pressure in both of your arms using the inflatable blood pressure cuff. The technician will them measure the blood pressure levels in two arteries in both your ankle. This measurement is taken with the inflatable cuff and a hand-held Doppler ultrasound device that the doctor will press on your skin. This test should only take a few minutes, and there are no special precautions you need to take after the test is finished.
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