ABI Screening: What Is an Ankle-Brachial Index Test?

The ankle-brachial index test (ABI screening) is an effective way for your provider to check how your blood is flowing, and to check for peripheral vascular disease or peripheral artery disease (PAD). PAD causes blockages in the arteries of your limbs, slowing blood flow and creating a barrier for oxygen.

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Patients with peripheral artery disease are more likely to have a stroke or heart attack. Getting an ABI screening from your provider will allow them to compare the blood pressure from your ankle with the blood pressure in your arm. A lower score on the test means poorer blood flow in the legs, whereas a higher score means blood is flowing normally.

Why is it needed?

There are a few reasons why someone might need to take the ankle-brachial index test. People are more likely to get PAD as they get older, making it a good idea to be tested at 70 or older, even if you show no signs of the disease. It’s also more likely in patients 50 or older who have a history of smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol. 

According to the American College of Cardiology, almost 1 in 25 persons older than 40, 1 in 7 over 70, and 1 in 4 over 80 have PAD. You should consider the ABI test if you have symptoms of PAD, the main one being a pain in the legs when walking or climbing. Other symptoms include pale or bluish skin, sores on your legs that don’t heal normally, or one leg feeling colder than the other.

Pro Tip: Patients previously diagnosed with PAD may also go to their provider for an ABI screening to see which treatments are working and to develop a chronic disease management plan. 

What is the procedure like?

Medical testing for PAD takes around 10 to 15 minutes. Your doctor will have you lie down on a table and use a cuff around your arm to take your blood pressure. Then, a Doppler ultrasound device is used so that your provider can listen to your blood flow for abnormalities through a speaker. This process is repeated on each arm and both ankles. 

Are there risks that come with it?

Usually, there are no risks that come with ABI screening. If there is an issue preventing a cuff from being used such as a blood clot or leg pain, your provider will suggest a different method of testing for you. 

Conclusion

After reviewing your symptoms and health history, your doctor will discuss preventive care and treatment depending on how your screening results look. Work with your provider from this point to get the medications you made need to minimize health issues and lifestyle changes you can make to relieve reoccurring problems. 

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