Causes and Tests for Diagnosing Peripheral Vascular Disease

Source: MedicineNet

Peripheral vascular disease (also known as PVD) is a disease that affects the blood vessels that are outside the brain and heart. Although there are many reasons for peripheral vascular disease physicians, use this term to describe peripheral artery disease.

In this condition, the arteries that supply the blood to arms, internal organs, and legs become partially or completely blocked due to atherosclerosis. 

What are the possible causes?

Apart from atherosclerosis, other conditions such as vasculitis can damage the blood vessels present in the body. Blood-clotting disorders, blood vessels injured due to physical injuries or accidents and blood vessels damaged due to surgery can also be a cause of deficient blood supply to tissues (ischemia). 

Tissue ischemia is a condition which can occur even when a person does not have atherosclerosis or any other abnormality of the arteries. Raynaud’s disease is an example. This is where spasms in blood vessels occur due to cold environment or stress.

Tests for diagnosis

Peripheral artery disease can be diagnosed during a physical examination. The signs may include bruits which are sounds that can be heard by placing the stethoscope over the arteries, absent or weak artery pulses present in the extremities, changes in blood pressure during the treadmill test and while at rest, and changes in nail and skin color because of tissue ischemia. Doctors also use imaging tests to diagnose peripheral artery disease. These tests include:  

Doppler ultrasound

The Doppler ultrasound is used to measure blood pressure at the ankles and behind the knees. Patients suffering from severe PVD in the legs will have low blood pressure in the ankles than in the arms. 

Duplex ultrasound

This technology uses colors to study the arteries. Ultrasound probes are attached to the skin above the arteries where they can precisely detect the area of artery stenosis and the degree of obstruction.


Angiography is an imaging test where doctors study the blood vessels present in the extremities. This procedure is similar to the coronary angiogram which is used to get an image of the blood vessels in the heart. This test is considered the most accurate as it detects the location, severity and collateral circulation of the arteries. 

X-ray angiography is used only when a patient suffering from severe peripheral artery disease is being considered for surgery or angioplasty because of its adverse side effects. Other imaging methods include magnetic resonance imaging, X-rays, and computed tomography (CT) scans.

Did you find this helpful?
You may also like