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Pre and post exercise ABPI (walking/treadmill test)

What is a pre and post exercise ABPI?

This test may also be called a treadmill test or a walking test. ABPI stands for “ankle brachial pressure indices”. This is because the test involves taking a blood pressure reading of your upper arms (at the level of the brachial artery) and your ankles. The blood pressure at your arms and ankles should be the same when you are lying down. In people with narrowed or blocked arteries in their legs, the blood pressure at the ankle will be lower after walking on a treadmill for five minutes. This test is a safe and effective way to identify if there is any disease in your arteries in your legs. This will allow the consultant to plan further tests. The test is painless and doesn’t use radiation or needles.

A pre and post exercise ABPI (walking/treadmill test)
The illustration shows the ankle-brachial index test.

Where do I go?

The Vascular Studies Unit (VSU) is on level 5 of the Addenbrooke’s Treatment Centre (ATC).

Please inform reception of your arrival straight away. There are often other clinics in progress so you may not be called in order of arrival. You may bring a relative or friend in with you during the test or request a chaperone if you would like one

What is consent?

Before your test is performed you must give your consent or permission. Consent is the process by which you give permission to health professionals to provide your care and treatment. It may be implied (offering your arm for a blood pressure reading) or formal (signing a formal consent form for an operation). In either case your consent must be given voluntarily and you must have all the information you need to make a decision. If you feel you do not have enough information or do not understand the procedure please ask.

How is a walking test performed?

There is no preparation needed and you may eat and drink as usual prior to the test. You will not need any trainers as we will ask you to walk in bare feet on the treadmill.

A clinical vascular scientist (who might be male or female) will perform and interpret your test. You will be asked to remove your shoes and socks, roll up your sleeves and lie on the couch.

A blood pressure cuff will be placed around your arms and ankles. A small amount of gel will be placed on your arm and your ankles, and a “pencil” like device called a handheld doppler will be used to listen to the blood flow. The blood pressure cuffs will be pumped up to determine the blood pressure at your arms and ankles.

This may feel tight but should not be painful. You will then be asked to walk on the treadmill at your normal pace for a maximum of five minutes. Whilst you are walking on the treadmill, the scientist will ask you to tell them if you get any pain in your legs, and where the pain is (this will be documented in the final report).

After this, you will lie back down on the couch and the blood pressure will be taken at your arms and ankles again. The investigation takes up to one hour. During the test, you may hear some “swooshing” noises from the handheld doppler. These sounds are normal.

Walking test procedure
This image shows the walking test procedure.

Risks/Side Effects

If you have any breathing difficulties, heart problems or balance problems please let the clinical vascular scientist know before you walk on the treadmill. We may need to adapt the test accordingly.

What happens next?

The clinical vascular scientist can comment briefly on the findings and will write a report for the consultant who requested the test. You will be able to discuss the results of this investigation fully with the referring team at your next outpatient appointment. In rare cases, the clinical vascular scientist may need to discuss the result with a doctor before you leave.