Good health and an active lifestyle depend on good circulation. That means a good flow of life-sustaining blood to every part of the body, from deep within organs like the heart and brain all the way out to the fingertips and toes.
There are many ways to test blood flow to the lower legs. In Doppler testing, an inflatable blood pressure cuff is placed around the leg or ankle while an ultrasound probe tracks the blood flow. This test may be performed after treadmill exercise. Diminished or absent pulses in certain vessels are a tip-off of blockages. The doctor is also likely to compare the blood pressure in your leg to the blood pressure in your arm, a measurement called the ankle-brachial index (ABI).
A more complicated test is angiography. In this procedure, a thin tube is inserted into the leg artery up near the groin. A dye is then released into the bloodstream and tracked by X-ray as it flows through the leg. However, this test is invasive and carries some degree of risk, so it is usually recommended only when the disease is severe enough to consider surgery or other artery-clearing procedures. In these cases, angiography provides a road map of the fatty deposits within the vessels.
Recently, some doctors have begun using magnetic resonance (MR) angiography, duplex ultrasonography, and spiral-computed tomography (CT) angiography as noninvasive alternatives for evaluation of blockage in leg arteries.
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