Taking your pulse to help diagnose peripheral arterial disease of the legs

Careful examination of your pulse in different areas is very important to diagnose peripheral arterial disease of the legs.

In the legs, doctors will commonly feel for pulses in the femoral (groin), popliteal (back of the knee), posterior tibial (ankle), and dorsalis pedis (foot) areas.

Other pulses often checked include the radial (wrist), brachial (forearm), and carotid (neck) areas. It is very important that pulses are checked on both sides, not just the side where the person has problems.

The pulses are graded for record-keeping purposes so that doctors can keep track of how a person's pulse changes over time. Your doctor uses a number system to rate your pulse.

When blood flows through a partial blockage, the turbulent flow causes a "whooshing" sound called a bruit (say "broo-E"). When a bruit is heard, usually with the help of a stethoscope placed over a pulse point, it means that there is blockage at or before the area where the bruit is noted. The bruit's pitch becomes higher as the blockage increases.

When the blockage is nearly complete and blood flow is completely blocked, the bruit disappears. Sometimes exercise, which generates increased blood flow, will unmask a previously silent bruit or cause pulses to be diminished.

Last Updated: October 16, 2009

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