Screening the Legs for a Serious Condition

Researchers in Canada are recommending that people over age 40 be screened for peripheral arterial disease, or PAD, a condition of the legs and feet that is associated with a higher risk of complications such as heart disease, stroke, and lower limb amputations. People with diabetes are more likely than those in the general population to develop PAD, which affects roughly 8–12 million Americans.


The condition, which is characterized by a narrowing of the arteries that supply blood to the legs, typically causes cramping, pain, or tiredness in the legs, particularly when walking or exercising; numbness, tingling, or coldness in the lower legs or feet; and infections in the legs or feet that heal slowly. In some people, however, symptoms are very mild, and in others there may be no symptoms at all.

Ross Tsuyuki, PharmD, MSc, and his colleagues at the University of Alberta looked at 362 people over age 50 who had visited pharmacies and doctors’ offices in Central and Northern Alberta. After extensive screening, 17 people, or 5% of the participants, were diagnosed with PAD. Significantly, 80% of those diagnosed had not previously been aware that they had the condition.

According to Dr. Tsuyuki, “The pain some PAD patients experience is the lower limb equivalent of the chest pain from the heart. PAD is as serious as heart disease and its prevention and treatment is similar. It’s unique in that it manifests in the legs but is just as urgent.”

Screening for PAD is a painless and relatively simple procedure that involves comparing the blood pressure in the leg to that in the arm. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends that people who are over 50 and have diabetes be screened for PAD even if they have no symptoms and that people under 50 who have risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or a history of diabetes longer than 10 years also receive screening.

To learn more about Dr. Tsuyuki’s research, read the article “Angina In The Legs? Time To Alert Patients And Physicians.” And for more information about PAD, see “When Your Legs Ache: Peripheral Arterial Disease and Diabetes.”

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  • Kimmie K.

    I have found this article to be beneficial and informative on being screen for PAD; I didn’t know this type of test had existed. I do have problems with my right leg, especially with tingling in the foot, sometimes tingling and pain in both hands at times, and a burning sensation in my right leg (maybe due to a bulging disk in my back). I am over 50 years old, and I have had diabetes for more than 15 years.

  • Sylvia

    I just had a test called an ABI at our local hospital. It included pressure tests with cuffs on the legs and arms. Also ultrasound of both leg
    was done.My doctor said I had “some” blockage mostly in the right leg. He gave me PLETAL but I got a violent headache after two pills. I quit.
    I had asked for the test and do not kow yet if I have to pay. I have medicare and BC. What to do next?

  • maria alvarez

    i have swellng on my right leg , I’ve been wearin g a support socking for serval year now and it helps too control the swelling i had no pain. but three months ago i had open heart surgey, couple a weeks after I started swelling and lots of pain on the lower side of my right leg too this day it’s still very painful i take antibotic now for a month is this all I can do, it seem a little better but still have pain, i need to work but am i going to be able too. my recovery from my operation is great. i am a diabetic.

  • Shirley Motoligin

    I have type 2 diabetes a couple of weeks ago I had a full leg charlie horse in my right leg now this past week the top of my right leg has had a lot of pain when I put pressure on it. When I set and get up to walk it seems to be very painful. I love to walk but this has not been easy this past week It seems to be getting better as the days go on I have been taking etodolac tabs which the Dr. gave me for my knee.There’s no swelling or redness on the leg. It almost feels like I tore a muscel. Do you feel I should get tested for pads.

  • John Sekishiro

    I have not gotten a test for PAD. Last doctor visit I mentioned it but he said that the pulse at each ankle was very strong and therefore in his opinion the test was not needed but he would schedule one if I wanted. I have eased my cramps and tingling by using a Chi machine each evening. I think this helps with the circulation in each leg, which has to be good. I have been a type 2 diabetic for many years.

  • Merriel

    At my next doctor visit I am going to ask my doctor to do the test for PAD. I had minor surgery on my left knee in February, 2009, and began taking Tylenol Arthritis, continuing for several months. I began having more than moderate pain in both lower legs and just a bit in my left thigh. I finally stopped taking the Tylenol Arthritis and the pain has, over two weeks, finally quit. I still want this examined.

  • Bernice Piotrski

    I have all the symptoms of PAD but have had several tests, and they say its not PAD but nerve pain from my diabetis. Now what do I do?

  • michael carrillo

    about a month ago i woke up to find that my lower legs felt like jello,unable to walk right.i get severe pain to both my legs and burning sensation to the bottom of my feet,like i’am walking on hot coals.My dr: stated that it might be the diebeties,i’AM TYPE II for past 3-years,my bsl are wnl,my a1c teast at 6.6.He scheduled me to see a nerurologist.I was also on wt loss medication,i was 300 # now am at 275# within 3-month’s i droped the wt.I don’t know what is happening