Why is peripheral artery disease difficult to diagnose?

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Anthony G. Smeglin, MD
Interventional Cardiology
Peripheral artery disease can be difficult to diagnose and is underdiagnosed because people don't know what to look for, and doctors often don't focus on it.

The majority of people with peripheral artery disease either don't experience symptoms or they attribute their symptoms to other causes.

Typically, peripheral artery disease can lead to symptoms such as pain in the legs with walking (known as claudication), achiness and heaviness. Sometimes, if it progresses, it can lead to ulcers or gangrene.

Some four out of five people experience atypical symptoms. That can be that when they are walking they may just get a cramp and continue walking. They may have some numbness or some heaviness. These are the sort of symptoms that people will often just attribute to their other ailments. It can often be confused for spine issues, arthritis issues, and neuropathic issues. One of the most common causes of these types of symptoms is venous disease. That’s one of the things that needs to be teased out.

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