Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is a major risk factor for adverse cardiovascular events. There has been a definite push for wider use of the ankle-brachial index (ABI) as a simple screening tool for PAD. Perhaps this has occurred to the detriment of a thorough physical examination.
To assess the accuracy of the physical examination to detect clinically significant PAD compared with the ABI.
PADfile, the PAD module of CARDIOfile (the Kingston Heart Clinic’s cardiology database [Kingston, Ontario]), was searched for all patients who underwent peripheral arterial testing. Of 1619 patients, 1236 had all of the necessary data entered. Patients’ lower limbs were divided into two groups: those with a normal ABI between 0.91 and 1.30, and those with an abnormal ABI of 0.90 or lower. Peripheral pulses were graded as either absent or present. Absent was graded as 0/3, present but reduced (1/3), normal (2/3) or bounding (3/3). Femoral bruits were graded as either present (1) or absent (0). Using the ABI as the gold standard, the sensitivity, specificity, negative predictive value (NPV), positive predictive value and overall accuracy were calculated for the dorsalis pedis pulse, the posterior tibial pulse, both pedal pulses, the presence or absence of a femoral bruit and, finally, for a combination of both pedal pulses and the presence or absence of a femoral bruit.
In 1236 patients who underwent PAD testing and who underwent a complete peripheral vascular physical examination (all dorsalis pedis and posterior tibial pulses palpated and auscultation for a femoral bruit), the sensitivity, specificity, NPV, positive predictive value and accuracy for PAD were 58.2%, 98.3%, 94.9%, 81.1% and 93.8%, respectively.
The clinical examination of the peripheral arterial foot pulses and the auscultation for a femoral bruit had a high degree of accuracy (93.8%) for the detection or exclusion of PAD compared with the ABI using the cut-off of 0.90 or lower. If both peripheral foot pulses are present in both lower limbs and there are no femoral bruits, the specificity and NPV of 98.3% and 94.9%, respectively, make the measurement of the ABI seem redundant. The emphasis in PAD detection should be redirected toward encouraging a thorough physical examination.