Harvard Heart Letter

Ankle-brachial index

Comparing blood pressure at the arm and ankle can reveal peripheral artery disease.

Arteries that deliver blood to parts of the body below the heart don't get nearly as much attention as the coronary arteries that supply the heart or the carotid arteries that supply the brain. They should. These so-called peripheral arteries are anything but peripheral. They're central to good health for the kidneys, intestines, and legs. They are also prone to the same damaging processes that stiffen and clog coronary arteries. Peripheral artery disease causes suffering, disability, and sometimes death among the millions of Americans who have it.

A key test for problems in the peripheral arteries is a blood pressure measurement known as the ankle-brachial index.

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