The United States Preventive Services Task Force Recommendation Statement on Screening for Peripheral Arterial Disease: More Harm Than Benefit?

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Under the auspices of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recently released an update to its 1996 Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) Screening Recommendation Statement. The USPSTF recommended against PAD screening, giving the practice a “D” level recommendation. This level suggests that little or no benefit could accrue from PAD screening and that screening-associated harm could occur. The present commentary disputes the Task Force’s recommendation. The USPSTF statement omitted important peer-reviewed data on the prevalence, screening efficacy, and short-term adverse prognosis of patients with PAD and failed to consider the beneficial outcomes that probably would result from timely diagnosis and treatment of this important manifestation of atherosclerosis. The Task Force implied that screening may lead to unnecessary tests, including increased risk associated with use of contrast angiographic studies. However, most patients with PAD have neither classic symptoms of leg claudication nor threatened limbs but have an extraordinarily high rate of adverse cardiovascular events, such as myocardial infarction, stroke, and death—events that should serve as a key rationale for screening. Medical therapy, including risk factor modification and antiplatelet medications, is known to reduce cardiovascular morbidity and mortality rates in these patients. The Task Force’s recommendation against PAD detection may itself adversely result in inadequate recognition and treatment of PAD, with adverse public health consequences. We encourage the USPSTF to reevaluate the extant data, add vascular specialty expertise to its review group, and reconsider its recommendation.

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