Foot Health

Pulses in your feet can warn of peripheral artery disease

Having adequate circulation to your legs and feet are extremely important for good foot health.

Pulses in the feet

There are two main arteries that supply blood to the foot. One leads down the back of the leg and supplies the bottom of your foot and toes, the other comes on the front of your leg and gives blood flow to the top of the foot and toes. The two vessels are pulses and health professionals are able to check them to know the quality of blood flow to the feet. The dorsalis pedis artery (DPA) is the one on the top of the foot and the posterior tibial artery (PTA) is located behind the ankle on the inner side of the foot. Pulses are graded on a scale from 0 meaning they are not there or not felt to 4 which is very hard or forceful. In about 10 percent of patients the DPA is congenitally absent and in about two percent of patients, the PTA is congenitally absent.

Generally, the two pulses in each foot that can be detected during a physical examination by a trained doctor or health professional. By checking these pulses, a doctor can tell whether the blood flow to your feet is normal or abnormal.

In other words, your feet can function as early warning indicators of peripheral arterial disease and even heart disease.

A doctor may pick up on this by checking the pulses in your feet. The doctor first uses his hands to palpate (feel) the pulses and give them a grade base on how it is beating. For more clues, they also look at the feet for other signs of blood flow to the feet. We look for the color, skin texture, presence of hair and feel the temperature of the feet. This information along with the present or absence of the pulses can tell a lot about blood flow to the feet.

If the pulses are very light or can not be felt, the doctor will use a tool called a vascular doppler to hear the blood flow in the vessels (yes, it’s just like the one they use to hear the baby’s heartbeat). The doppler provides a lot of information about the pulse – how the beats sound, is it high, low or can not be heard, the speed of the pulse, etc.

If there are any concerns, there is more extensive testing of the blood flow to the legs and feet. A very simple test that can be performed to further evaluate your arteries in the lower extremity called an Arterial Doppler. This test can be done at the doctor’s office or radiology (X-ray) office and involves pumping up the blood pressure cuffs on your legs. A doppler ultrasound is then used to measure the amount of the blood flow. Both this and the blood pressure reading help us determine if there are any place in the lower leg that could be blocked and causing decreased blood flow. If your arterial doppler is abnormal, you would be referred to a vascular surgeon who may need to perform a procedure to improve your blood flow to your lower extremities.

People who are at a higher risk of developing poor blood flow issues are diabetics, smokers, and those with high blood pressure and cholesterol.

What can you do to improve blood flow to the feet?

Often, unhealthy behaviors are major contributing factors that lead to poor blood flow to the legs and feet which can lead to non-healing ulcers, gangrene and amputations. Learning to avoid and manage these health habits is a good starting point in controlling poor circulation. These may include stop smoking cigarettes, adding exercise and movement to your life daily, eating a healthy diet full of healthy fruits and vegetables low in meat, fats, salt and sugar and get control over chronic conditions including high blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure.

If you have any concerns about the blood flow in your feet, its time to see your doctor to have your feet examined. Every diabetic should have their feet examined at least once per year which includes the blood flow tests.

• For more information on PAD email us at or visit or To see a podiatrist visit Bahamas Foot Centre on Rosetta Street or call 325-2996 for an appointment or visit Bahamas Surgical Associates Center at Hilltop Medical East Terrace Centerville or call 394-5820 for an appointment. In Grand Bahama visit Lucayan Medical Center on East Sunrise Highway or call 373-7400 for an appointment.

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