Allen's test

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Arteries of the hand

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]

Synonyms and keywords: Allen test


In medicine, Allen's test, is used to test blood supply to the hand. It is performed prior to radial arterial blood sampling or cannulation.

Historical Perspective

It is named after Edgar Van Nuys Allen.[1]

The Allen's Test

  1. The hand is elevated and the patient/person is asked to make a fist for about 30 secs.
  2. Pressure is applied over the ulnar and the radial arteries so as to occlude both of them.
  3. Still elevated, the hand is then opened. It should appear blanched (pallor can be observed at the finger nails).
  4. Ulnar pressure is released and the color should return in 7 secs.

Inference: Ulnar artery supply to the hand is sufficient and it is safe to cannulate/prick the radial.

If color does not return or returns after 7 seconds, then the ulnar artery supply to the hand is not sufficient and the radial artery therefore cannot be safely pricked/cannulated.

Anatomical Basis

The hand is normally supplied by blood from the ulnar and radial arteries. The arteries undergo anastomosis in the hand. Thus, if the blood supply from one of the arteries is cut off, the other artery can supply adequate blood to the hand. A minority of people lack this dual blood supply.


An uncommon complication of radial arterial blood sampling / cannulation is disruption of the artery (obstruction by clot), placing the hand at risk of ischemia. Those people who lack the dual supply are at much greater risk of ischemia. The risk can be reduced by performing Allen's test beforehand. People who have a single blood supply in one hand often have a dual supply in the other, allowing the practitioner to take blood from the side with dual supply.

The utility of the Allen's test is questionable,[2] and no direct correlation with reduced ischemic complications of radial artery cannulation have ever been proven. In 1983, Slogoff and colleagues reviewed 1,782 radial artery cannulations and found that 25% of them resulted in complete radial artery occlusion, without apparent adverse effects.[3] A number of reports have been published in which permanent ischemic sequelae occurred even in the presence of a normal Allen's test.[4][5] In addition, the results of Allen's tests do not appear to correlate with distal blood flow as demonstrated by fluorescein dye injections[6] or photoplethysmography.[7]

Modifications to the test have been proposed to improve reliability.[8]


  1. Template:WhoNamedIt
  2. Jarvis MA, Jarvis CL, Jones PR, Spyt TJ (2000). "Reliability of Allen's test in selection of patients for radial artery harvest". Ann. Thorac. Surg. 70 (4): 1362–5. PMID 11081899. Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)
  3. Slogoff s, Keats AS, Arlund C. On the safety of radial artery cannulation. Anesthesiology 1983; 59:42-7
  4. Thompson SR, Hirschberg A: Allen's test re-examined. Crit Care Med 16:915, 1988
  5. Wilkins RG: Radial artery cannulation and ischaemic damage: A review. Anaesthesia 40:896-899, 1985
  6. McGregor AD: The Allen test-an investigation of its accuracy by fluorescein angiography. J Hand Surg [Br] 12:82-85, 1987
  7. Stead SW, Stirt JA: Assessment of digital blood flow and palmar collateral circulation. Int J Clin Monit Comput 2:29, 1985
  8. Asif M, Sarkar PK (2007). "Three-digit Allen's test". Ann. Thorac. Surg. 84 (2): 686–7. doi:10.1016/j.athoracsur.2006.11.038. PMID 17643672. Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)

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