WHAT IS A VASCULAR ULTRASOUND?
Vascular ultrasound is a noninvasive method used to study circulation within the blood vessels of nearly any part of the body. Vascular ultrasounds can also be used to evaluate arteries or veins in nearly any part of the body, including your blood vessels in the neck, abdomen, arms and legs.
This procedure does not use any radiation to capture images. During a vascular ultrasound study, high-frequency sound waves are transmitted through the tissues of the area being examined and reflect off the blood cells moving within the blood vessels. A transducer collects the sound waves, which bounce back to the ultrasound machine. A computer records the sound waves that bounce back, thereby creating an image of the examined veins.
Because these images are produced in real time, they can show structure and movement. The speed of the sound waves returning to the ultrasound machine allows for calculation of the speed of blood flow in the vessel. When the speed of blood flow in a vessel is too fast, this indicates a narrowing or blockage.
What Are Some of the Common Uses of the Procedure?
Sonography is a useful way of evaluating the body's circulatory system. Vascular ultrasound is performed to:
- Help monitor blood flow to organs and tissues throughout the body
- Locate and identify blockages (stenosis) and abnormalities like plaque or emboli and help plan for their effective treatment
- Detect blood clots (deep venous thrombosis or DVT) in the major veins of the legs or arms
- Determine whether a patient is a good candidate for a procedure such as angioplasty
- Evaluate the success of procedures that graft or bypass blood vessels
- Determine if there is an enlarged artery (aneurysm)
- Determine the source and severity of varicose veins
Doppler ultrasound can help us see and evaluate:
- Blockages to blood flow such s clots
- Narrowing of vessels
- Tumors and congenital vascular malformations
- Reduced or absent blood flow to various organs
- Greater than normal blood flow to different areas, often seen in infections
BENEFITS OF A HAVING VASCULAR ULTRASOUND
- The ultrasound scanning is noninvasive (no needles or injections)
- Occasionally, an ultrasound exam may be temporarily uncomfortable, but it is almost never painful
- Ultrasounds are widely available, easy-to-use and less expensive than other imaging methods
- Ultrasound imaging is extremely safe, does not use any ionizing radiation (which is used in X-rays) and you are not exposed to radiation
- Ultrasound scanning gives a clear picture of soft tissues that do not show up well on X-ray images
- No dyes are used
- The procedure is safe and there are no side effects
HOW IS THE PROCEDURE PERFORMED?
For most ultrasound exams, you will lie face-up on an examination table that may be tilted or moved. You may be turned to either side to improve the quality of the images. A clear, water-based gel is applied to the area of the body being studied to help the transducer make secure contact with the body and eliminate air pockets between the transducer and the skin. Air pockets can block the sound waves from passing into your body. The sonographer then places the transducer on the skin in various locations, sweeping over the area of interest.
Most patients feel no pain, although some may if the transducer passes over a sensitive area of your skin. You will feel some pressure as the transducer moves over your body. If a Doppler ultrasound study is being performed, you may hear pulse-like sounds that change in pitch as the blood flow is monitored and measured.
When the examination is complete, the gel will be wiped off your body and you may be asked to wait while the ultrasound images are reviewed. The procedure usually takes 30 to 45 minutes, although complex examinations may take longer. After your examination, you should be able to return to normal activities immediately.
HOW DO I PREPARE FOR A VASCULAR ULTRASOUND?
No special preparation is required for lower extremity venous or arterial ultrasound. You should wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing for the procedure. Leave jewelry at home. You may need to remove all clothing and wear a gown during the exam. If your abdominal vessels are being examined, it is best to refrain from eating or drinking for six hours before the procedure.
WHAT ARE THE LIMITATIONS OF VASCULAR ULTRASOUND?
Vessels deep in the body are harder to see than superficial vessels. Specialized equipment, or other tests such as CT or MRI may be necessary to properly visualize them. Smaller vessels are more difficult to image and evaluate than larger vessels. Calcifications resulting from atherosclerosis may obstruct the ultrasound beam.
OTHER COMMON TYPES OF VASCULAR ULTRASOUNDS
Carotid duplex ultrasounds examine the carotid arteries in the neck to detect the presence of atherosclerosis, or arterial narrowing caused by plaque. Indications for a carotid duplex scan include weakness, paralysis, dysfunction or tingling of limbs, visual disturbances, changes in speech and balance disturbances. We may also order a scan or we detect a sound or murmur upon listening to the blood flow in your neck with a stethoscope.
Duplex ultrasound of the arms and legs is typically used to diagnose peripheral arterial disease (PAD). Some indications for a scan include warmth, pain and swelling as well as the presence of ulcers.
A noninvasive flow study may be ordered if you have difficulty walking or have an ulcer on your foot. This type of ultrasound uses blood pressure cuffs on your arms, thighs, calves, ankles and feet to measure segmental pressures and pulse volume recordings as well as the ankle-brachial index.
For more information on vascular ultrasound or to make an appointment, call us today at 425-250-9999. For your convenience, you can use our online Request an Appointment form.