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Pulse oximetry was used to detect return of pulsatile flow in 27 subjects during reactive hyperaemia following 3 min of total limb ischaemia induced by above knee tourniquet occlusion. Fourteen patients with exercise induced leg pain had 18 symptomatic limbs tested. Thirteen controls had 25 limbs tested. Return of pulsatile flow during reactive hyperaemia occurred within 20 s of tourniquet release in the 25 control limbs which was then regarded as normal. The mean time for return of pulsatile flow in 18 symptomatic limbs was 53 +/- 37 s (P < 0.05 versus controls). Three limbs had a normal value, two of which did not have peripheral vascular disease. Pulse oximetry correctly identified all 25 asymptomatic limbs and 15 of 16 patients with claudication secondary to peripheral vascular disease (PVD). This modification of the reactive hyperaemia test using the pulse oximeter is simple and quick to perform. It has potential as a non-invasive screening test for PVD, suitable for outpatient assessment.