Accuracy of the screening physical examination to identify subclinical atherosclerosis and peripheral arterial disease in asymptomatic subjects

J Vasc Surg. 2007 Dec;46(6):1215-21. doi: 10.1016/j.jvs.2007.08.022.


Objectives: This study assessed the accuracy of the screening vascular physical examination for predicting asymptomatic peripheral arterial disease (PAD) or subclinical atherosclerosis in asymptomatic and apparently healthy subjects.

Methods: A standardized physical examination and a carotid and femoral ultrasonography were administered to 2736 men and women aged 20 to 90 years old, with no personal history of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and no complaint of neurologic, coronary, or lower limb symptom. We assessed the accuracy of auscultation for bruits and pulse palpation for identifying the presence of significant carotid stenosis, carotid plaque, femoral plaque, and ankle-brachial index (ABI) <0.9 at ultrasonography.

Results: The presence of a femoral bruit provided information on the presence of both an ABI <0.9 (positive likelihood ratio [+LR], 2.90; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.63 to 5.16) and a femoral plaque (+LR, 3.23; 95% CI, 2.22 to 4.71), and this information was independent from the cardiovascular risk factors. The absence of both pedal pulses also provided additional information, beyond risk factors, on the presence of an ABI <0.9 (+LR, 3.57; 95% CI, 1.93 to 6.60). The presence of a carotid bruit did not affect the likelihood of carotid stenosis, plaque, or intima-media thickness above the median.

Conclusion: Unlike carotid auscultation, pulse palpation and auscultation for femoral bruits provided valuable information on the presence of asymptomatic PAD and underlying atherosclerosis in apparently healthy subjects.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Ankle / blood supply
  • Atherosclerosis / diagnosis*
  • Atherosclerosis / diagnostic imaging
  • Atherosclerosis / physiopathology
  • Auscultation
  • Blood Pressure
  • Brachial Artery / physiopathology
  • Carotid Stenosis / diagnosis*
  • Carotid Stenosis / diagnostic imaging
  • Carotid Stenosis / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Femoral Artery* / diagnostic imaging
  • Femoral Artery* / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / methods*
  • Middle Aged
  • Odds Ratio
  • Palpation
  • Peripheral Vascular Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Peripheral Vascular Diseases / diagnostic imaging
  • Peripheral Vascular Diseases / physiopathology
  • Physical Examination*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prospective Studies
  • Pulse
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Research Design
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Ultrasonography