Recognising vascular causes of leg complaints in endurance athletes. Part 2: the value of patient history, physical examination, cycling exercise test and echo-Doppler examination

Int J Sports Med. 2002 Jul;23(5):322-8. doi: 10.1055/s-2002-33142.


Leg complaints at maximal exercise in endurance athletes may have many causes, including arterial flow limitations in the iliac arteries. Such flow limitations can evolve into serious health problems due to increasing intravascular obstruction or even complete obstruction as a result of dissection or thrombosis. Early detection is therefore of clinical importance, but conventional diagnostic tools often prove inadequate. In the current study simple sports-specific tests are examined for their diagnostic power. Test variables derived from patient history, physical examination, cycling exercise testing followed by arterial pressure measurements at the ankle, and echo-Doppler examination with provocative manoeuvres were tested in 92 symptomatic legs (80 patients). A validated clinical classification acted as a reference. Several test variables proved useful. However, no single test variable combined a high sensitivity with a high specificity. Multivariate testing resulted in the correct classification of 91 % of patients, reaching a sensitivity of 0.90 and specificity of 0.93 (kappa 0.76). Four patients wrongly classified as non-vascular suffered from kinking in the common iliac artery that could not be visualised using the diagnostic tools currently available in this study.

In conclusion: simple sports-specific tests accurately diagnose iliac artery obstruction in endurance athletes.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Algorithms
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Exercise Test
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Iliac Artery / diagnostic imaging
  • Iliac Artery / physiopathology*
  • Leg / blood supply
  • Male
  • Medical History Taking
  • Peripheral Vascular Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Peripheral Vascular Diseases / physiopathology
  • Physical Endurance*
  • Physical Examination
  • Sports*
  • Ultrasonography, Doppler