The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide
When You Visit Your Doctor
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Peripheral Vascular Disease

Questions to Discuss with Your Doctor:

  • Do you develop pain, cramps, aches, fatigue, or numbness in your leg muscles when you walk?
  • At what distance do you develop symptoms?
  • Do they go away when you stop walking?
  • Do you ever develop these symptoms at rest?
  • Which leg muscles are involved?
  • Do you have decreased sensation in your feet?
  • If you are a man, do you have erectile dysfunction?
  • Are you doing everything possible to modify the risk factors that can worsen this disease (smoking cessation, treating elevated blood pressure and cholesterol, and controlling diabetes)?
  • Are you exercising regularly and at progressively more strenuous levels?
  • Are you taking an aspirin every day?
  • Are you eating a low-cholesterol diet?
  • If you have diabetes, do you practice meticulous foot care (cleaning, applying moisturizing lotions, and wearing well-fitting protective shoes)?
  • Do you know when to seek emergency medical care for peripheral vascular disease (if your leg becomes suddenly painful, pale, cold and numb)?
  • Do you know when you should be referred to a vascular surgeon?
  • Do you know possible surgical complications? (Be sure to ask how often the surgeon performs this operation).
  • Do you get chest pain or pressure with exertion or at rest? If so, you may have coronary artery disease.
  • Do you have sudden brief episodes of blindness (like a shade being pulled over your eyes) or sudden episodes of weakness in an arm or leg, or difficulty speaking? These could be warning symptoms of stroke.
  • Do you get short of breath when you lie down or exert yourself?
  • Do you awaken in the middle of the night short of breath?
  • Do your ankles swell?

Your Doctor Might Examine the Following Body Structures or Functions:

  • Heart rate, blood pressure, and weight
  • Pulses
  • Major arteries (for abnormal noises)
  • Heart and lungs
  • Neurologic exam (reflexes and sensation in your legs)
  • Muscles (looking for atrophy in leg muscles)
  • Skin

Your Doctor Might Order the Following Lab Tests or Studies:

  • Blood tests (glucose and cholesterol)
  • Ultrasound (see p. 140)
  • Doppler Ankle-Arm Indices
  • Exercise Stress Test (see p. 660)
  • MRI (see p. 143)
  • Angiography (see p. 139)


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