Diagnosing Deep Vein Thrombosis Peripheral Artery Disease

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: March 2024

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and peripheral artery disease (PAD) are 2 vascular conditions that affect blood flow in the body. With both conditions, a timely and accurate diagnosis is crucial.1

What are PAD and DVT?

In PAD, narrowed or blocked arteries reduce blood flow to the body’s extremities. PAD most commonly affects the arms or legs but can impact other areas. PAD may cause symptoms like pain or fatigue in the legs, especially with walking.1

DVT, on the other hand, is the formation of blood clots in deep veins, typically of the legs. This leads to swelling and complications if the clot travels to the lungs.1

Diagnosing deep vein thrombosis

If you have symptoms that point toward DVT – swelling, pain, warmth, or discoloration in the affected leg – see a doctor as soon as possible. They will closely examine your legs for signs of DVT.2,3

They will also ask about your medical history and potential risk factors. DVT often results from sitting or lying down for a long time, a recent surgery, or a history of clotting disorders, so be sure to share your full health history.2,3

Diagnostic tests

Several diagnostic tests can help confirm DVT. These include:2,3

  • D-dimer blood test – This is a blood test that measures the presence of a protein (D-dimer) that is produced when there is a blood clot. Elevated D-dimer levels may indicate the presence of an active clot.
  • Duplex ultrasound – Duplex ultrasound is the gold standard for diagnosing DVT. This test allows your doctor to see your blood flow and the presence, location, and size of a clot. It is a painless procedure.
  • Venography – In this imaging test, a contrast dye is injected into a large vein to make blood vessels more visible on X-rays. This helps identify and assess the presence, location, and severity of any blood clots in the deep veins.

Diagnosing peripheral artery disease

PAD often presents with symptoms such as leg pain, cramping, and fatigue with physical activity. If you experience these symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor. During your doctor’s visit, expect a detailed discussion about your medical history and symptoms.4-6

Your doctor will do a physical exam, checking for signs such as weakened pulses, cool skin, and any changes in skin color. These can be clues that blood is not flowing as it should to the affected area(s).4-6

Diagnostic tests

Your doctor may refer you to a specialist or recommend some diagnostic tests to gather more information. These are painless, noninvasive tests that provide valuable insights into the blood flow through your body. These tests may include:4-6

  • Ankle-brachial index (ABI) test – An ABI test measures and compares the blood pressure in your ankle and arm. You may be asked to walk on a treadmill before or after the blood pressure reading. A lower ABI may indicate a reduction in blood flow to your limbs. This is a commonly used test to diagnose PAD.
  • Pulse volume recording (PVR) – This test measures the blood flow in the legs using ultrasound.
  • Vascular ultrasound – A vascular ultrasound may be used to create images of blood flow in the arteries, usually those in the legs and feet since that is where PAD often occurs. This test helps spot any blockages or narrowed arteries.
  • Angiogram – This imaging test provides detailed pictures of your blood vessels. This helps your doctor spot any abnormalities or blockages in the arteries. Two types are used for a PAD diagnosis: magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) and computed tomography angiography (CTA).

Who diagnoses DVT and PAD?

Medical experts often involved in a DVT and PAD diagnosis include:6,7

  • General practitioners
  • Vascular specialists
  • Cardiologists
  • Hematologists

These professionals work together to review symptoms, carry out diagnostic tests, and develop a treatment plan based on the findings.6,7

Early diagnosis is key

Diagnosing PAD and DVT involves a team effort between patients and several healthcare professionals. If you have symptoms or concerns, get a thorough evaluation from your primary healthcare provider. Early detection is key to treating vascular diseases like DVT and PAD.1

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