The toe-brachial index in the diagnosis of peripheral arterial disease

J Vasc Surg. 2013 Jul;58(1):231-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jvs.2013.03.044. Epub 2013 May 18.


Background: Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) can be diagnosed noninvasively by segmental blood pressure measurement and calculating an ankle-brachial index (ABI) or toe-brachial index (TBI). The ABI is known to be unreliable in patients with vascular stiffness and fails to detect the early phase of arteriosclerotic development. The toe vessels are less susceptible to vessel stiffness, which makes the TBI useful. However, the diagnostic limits used in guidelines, clinical settings, and experimental studies vary substantially. This review provides an overview of the evidence supporting the clinical use of the TBI.

Methods: A review of the literature identified studies reporting the use of the TBI regarding guideline recommendations, normal populations, correlations to angiographic findings, and prognostic implications.

Results: Eight studies conducted in a normal population were identified, of which only one study used imaging techniques to rule out arterial stenosis. A reference value of 0.71 was estimated as the lowest limit of normal based on the weighted average in studies with preheating of the limbs. A further seven studies showed correlations of the TBI with angiographic findings. The TBI had a sensitivity of 90% to 100% and a specificity of 65% to 100% for the detection of vessel stenosis. Few studies investigated the value of the TBI as a prognostic marker for cardiovascular mortality and morbidity, and no firm conclusions could be made. Studies have, however, shown correlation between the TBI and comorbidities such as kidney disease, diabetes, and microvasculature disease.

Conclusions: In contrast to the well-defined and evidence-based limits of the ABI, the diagnostic criteria for a pathologic TBI remain ambiguous. Although several guidelines and reviews of PAD diagnostics recommend a TBI <0.70 as cutoff, it is not strictly evidence-based. The current literature is not sufficient to conclude a specific cutoff as diagnostic for PAD. The current studies in normal populations and the correlation with angiography are sparse, and additional trials are needed to further validate the limits. Large-scale trials are needed to establish the risk of morbidity and mortality for the various diagnostic limits of the TBI.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Ankle Brachial Index* / standards
  • Comorbidity
  • Hemodynamics
  • Humans
  • Peripheral Arterial Disease / diagnosis*
  • Peripheral Arterial Disease / diagnostic imaging
  • Peripheral Arterial Disease / mortality
  • Peripheral Arterial Disease / physiopathology
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prognosis
  • Radiography
  • Risk Factors
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Vascular Stiffness