What Is a Vascular Ultrasound (and Who Should Get One)?

This method can be used to evaluate arteries or veins in nearly any part of the body
Vascular ultrasound image

A vascular ultrasound is a noninvasive ultrasound method (also called a duplex study) used to examine the circulation in the blood vessels of the body.

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Vascular ultrasound can 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. Non- invasive means the procedure doesn’t require the use of needles or anesthesia. Unlike other imaging tests, ultrasound does not require radiation or contrast dye.

During a vascular ultrasound study, sound waves are transmitted through the tissues of the area being examined. These sound waves reflect off of blood cells moving within the blood vessels, and return to the ultrasound machine. The sound waves are recorded and displayed on a computer screen to make an image of the blood vessel. The speed of the sound waves returning to the ultrasound machine allow for calculation of the speed of blood flow in the vessel. When the speed of blood flow in a blood vessel is too fast, this indicates a narrowing (blockage).

Here, Heather Gornik, MD, explains three things you should know about vascular ultrasound:

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We use the vascular ultrasound for:  Evaluation of blood flow in the arteries and veins of the body to detect the presence, severity and specific location of disease. We can diagnose narrowing of arteries and determine the severity of narrowing. We can also use vascular ultrasound to diagnose blood clots in the veins of the arms and legs, a condition known as deep vein thrombosis, or DVT.

The vascular ultrasound is a great test because:  It is non-invasive and does not require exposure to radiation or contrast dye, which can damage the kidneys.  It is also a terrific test because it is one of the few that gives physiological information about blood flow in the arteries and veins. Ultrasound is also highly portable compared to other types of vascular imaging (such as CAT scans or MRI). 

New technology is allowing us to use vascular ultrasound for:  Assessing vascular disease in the abdomen (such as kidney arteries, abdominal aortic aneurysms). Vascular ultrasound is also the most commonly used test to follow-up patients after they have undergone a vascular procedure such as a bypass graft or stent.

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