Physical examination and chronic lower-extremity ischemia: a critical review

Arch Intern Med. 1998 Jun 22;158(12):1357-64. doi: 10.1001/archinte.158.12.1357.


Objective: To determine the clinical utility of physical examination in patients with suspected chronic ischemia of the lower extremities.

Data sources: MEDLINE search (January 1966 to January 1997), personal files, and bibliographies of textbooks on physical diagnosis, surgery, and vascular surgery.

Study selection: Both authors independently graded the studies as level 1, 2, or 3, according to predetermined criteria. Criteria deemed essential for analysis of sensitivity, specificity, and likelihood ratios were (1) clear definition of study population, (2) clear definition of physical examination maneuver, and (3) use of an acceptable criterion standard test for comparison.

Results: The following positive findings help clinicians diagnose the presence of peripheral arterial disease: abnormal pedal pulses, a unilaterally cool extremity, a prolonged venous filling time, and a femoral bruit. Other physical signs help determine the extent and distribution of vascular disease, including an abnormal femoral pulse, lower-extremity bruits, warm knees, and the Buerger test. The capillary refill test and the findings of foot discoloration, atrophic skin, and hairless extremities are unhelpful in diagnostic decisions. Mathematical formulas, derived from 2 studies using multivariate analysis, allow clinicians to estimate the probability of peripheral arterial disease in their patients.

Conclusion: Certain aspects of the physical examination help clinicians make accurate judgments about the presence of peripheral arterial disease and its distribution.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Arterial Occlusive Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Ischemia / diagnosis*
  • Leg / blood supply*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Physical Examination*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Pulse
  • Sensitivity and Specificity