Vascular ultrasound is an important diagnostic imaging exam that can provide crucial information about your blood vessels and the overall health of your circulatory system. It involves imaging techniques similar to those used in a traditional ultrasound, but with a higher resolution and more sophisticated imaging technology. Vascular ultrasounds provide detailed pictures of the arteries and veins that transport blood throughout your body to identify blockages to blood flow, such as narrowing of vessels (stenosis), blood circulation issues, and blood supply concerns.
What is a vascular ultrasound?
A vascular ultrasound exam, also known as a duplex study, is a noninvasive medical test that inspects blood flow in the arms, neck and legs. It works by using high-frequency sound waves to create detailed images of soft tissue and blood vessels. Such images can be used to evaluate different aspects, such as blood clots, blockages or damage to major arteries and veins.
The primary purpose of vascular ultrasound is to diagnose medical issues such as narrowing or weakening of the arteries, varicose veins or aneurysms. The procedure can also be used for monitoring certain treatments, such as angioplasty and stents. It may also be recommended before any major surgery involving the vascular system. This test is crucial in enabling healthcare providers to assess the health and functioning of all types of vessels in your body efficiently without the need for invasive procedures.
Why might I need a vascular ultrasound?
A vascular study may be done to check signs and symptoms that may mean you have decreased blood flow in arteries or veins in your neck, legs, or arms.
If you experience any signs or symptoms of deep vein thrombosis (leg swelling), a vascular ultrasound will help detect blood clots in the major veins of the arms or legs. A Doppler ultrasound can also be used to detect an enlarged artery (aneurysm), evaluate the success of procedures that graft or bypass blood vessels, or determine if a patient is a good candidate for angioplasty. Doppler ultrasound has been proven beneficial in diagnosing Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) as well as other conditions like venous insufficiency, varicose exams, stenosis, plaque buildup, or narrowing of blood vessels. If you’re experiencing any related symptoms, such as leg pain or difficulty walking long distances due to decreased blood flow from PAD-related conditions, it would be wise to make an appointment for a vascular ultrasound to accurately diagnose so that you can seek treatment.
The 5 types of vascular ultrasound
1. Carotid ultrasound (carotid duplex)
Carotid ultrasound (carotid duplex) is an imaging test used to check for blockages in your carotid arteries. This test measures the rate at which blood flows through the carotid arteries, which are located on each side of your neck. The presence of any blockage can indicate atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, which is a risk factor for heart disease.
2. Aortic ultrasound
An aortic ultrasound is an imaging technique used by medical professionals to diagnose and observe diseases of the aorta, the largest artery in the human body. Aortic ultrasounds allow for clear visualization of the structure and flow of blood within the aorta due to its use of high-frequency sound waves.
3. Renal artery ultrasound
A renal artery ultrasound is an imaging test used to evaluate the arteries that supply blood to the kidneys. It helps your doctor look for blockages or narrowing within these arteries, which can lead to hypertension or renal dysfunction.
Your doctor may recommend a renal artery ultrasound for several different reasons. For instance, it is often used as part of a routine physical exam in those with a high risk of developing conditions like hypertension or kidney disease. An ultrasound can also be used as part of preoperative assessment prior to vascular surgery. Furthermore, it can help your doctor monitor existing conditions, such as vascular problems or arterial stenosis (narrowing), in those already affected by these issues.
4. Mesenteric arterial duplex ultrasound
A mesenteric duplex scan is used to assess the arteries that supply blood to the liver, spleen, stomach, and intestines, as well as those arteries within the kidney and intestines. This type of evaluation allows doctors to identify any narrowing or blockages in the vessels that could lead to abdominal pain or an insufficient blood flow condition known as ischemic bowel.
5. Lower extremity arterial Doppler exam
An arterial Doppler exam measures the blood pressure in your lower extremity arteries and veins, which is a measure of how freely blood flows. Arterial Doppler imaging can help to diagnose peripheral artery disease. Atherosclerosis (narrowing or blockages in blood vessels) can cause leg pain when walking or even resting.
How should I prepare for my Doppler Ultrasound?
Preparing for a vascular ultrasound is straightforward. It helps to wear comfortable and loose-fitting clothing as you may be asked to change into a hospital gown. You may wish to leave jewelry or valuables at home, as the procedure will require you to undress. If your abdominal vessels are to be examined, it is best to fast before the procedure, if possible.
At your appointment, a Doppler ultrasound probe will be gently placed on or near specific areas of your body for imaging. This is typically a painless procedure. The images produced through this process will enable your healthcare provider to evaluate for blood clots, aneurysms, blockages, and other health concerns related to your arteries or veins.