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Limb Plethysmography

Definition

Limb plethysmography is a test that compares blood pressure in the legs and arms.

Alternative Names

Plethysmography - limb

How the test is performed

This test may be done in the health care provider's office or in a hospital. You will be asked to lie in a partially propped-up position.

Three blood pressure cuffs are wrapped snugly around your arm and leg. The health care provider inflates the cuffs, and a machine called a plethysmograph measures the pulses from each cuff. The test records the maximum pressure produced when the heart contracts (systolic blood pressure).

Any differences between the pulses are noted. If there is a decrease in the pulse between the arm and leg, it may indicate a blockage.

When the test is complete, the blood pressure cuffs are removed.

How to prepare for the test

Do not smoke for at least 30 minutes before the test. You will be asked to remove all clothing from the arm and leg being tested.

How the test will feel

You should not have much discomfort with this test. You should only feel pressure of the blood pressure cuff. The test usually takes less than 20 - 30 minutes to perform.

Why the test is performed

This test is usually done to check for narrowing or blockages of blood vessels in the arms or legs.

Normal Values

There should be less than 20 mmHg difference in the systolic blood pressure of the leg compared with that of the arm.

What abnormal results mean

Abnormal results may be due to:

  • Arterial occlusive disease
  • Blood clots
  • Blood vessel changes due to diabetes
  • Injury to an artery
  • Other blood vessel disease (vascular disease)

Other conditions for which the test may be performed:

  • Deep venous thrombosis

If you have an abnormal result, you may undergo further testing to determine the exact site of the narrowing.

What the risks are

There are no risks.

Special considerations

The test is not as accurate as an arteriography. Plethysmography may be done for very ill patients who cannot travel to the arteriography lab. This test can be used to screen for vascular disease or to follow up earlier abnormal tests.

The test is noninvasive, does not use x-rays or injection of dye, and is a lot less expensive than an angiogram.

References

Gerhard-Herman M, Gardin JM, Jaff M, et al. Guidelines for noninvasive vascular laboratory testing: a report from the American Society of Echocardiography and the Society of Vascular Medicine and Biology. J Am Soc Echocardiogr. 2006;19(8):955-972.

Review Date: 6/7/2010

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