What Does ‘Vascular’ Mean?
The word vascular refers to our body’s circulatory system — the blood vessels which carry blood from the heart to the body’s organs (the arteries) and from the organs back to the heart (the veins).
What is Vascular Disease?
Vascular disease refers to the unhealthy changes which occur in our blood vessels as we age. Examples include plaque build-up in the arteries, varicose veins and blood clots in the veins.
What is Vascular Ultrasound?
The medical specialty of vascular technology utilizes diagnostic ultrasound to generate images of blood flow within the veins and arteries. Ultrasound uses high frequency sound waves, similar to the sonar that a ship uses to detect structures beneath the surface of the water. Vascular ultrasound can also be known as a Doppler or duplex study. For example, if your physician wants to make sure that you do not have a blood clot in your leg, he or she might order a venous duplex or venous Doppler examination.
Vascular ultrasound procedures are noninvasive, meaning they do not require the use of needles, dyes, radiation or anesthesia and are, therefore, relatively painless and harmless.
The information obtained through vascular ultrasound examinations is extremely helpful to physicians in diagnosing a variety of conditions related to cardiovascular disease, disorders of the heart and blood vessels. Early detection of life-threatening vascular diseases is possible through the use of noninvasive vascular testing techniques performed within vascular facilities.
Vascular ultrasound’s reliability in diagnosing conditions related to heart disease and stroke is encouraging as we strive for ways to reduce the more than 500,000 lives lost in the United States each year to these disorders. However, it is critical that the public realizes there are many facets that contribute to an accurate diagnosis based on vascular ultrasound examinations. These factors include the skill of the technologist/sonographer performing the examination, the type of equipment used, the background and knowledge of the interpreting physician and quality assurance measures. In fact, poor ultrasound examinations often lead to inconvenient, redundant studies, misdiagnosis and even unnecessary tests or surgery.
Types of Vascular Exams
- Carotid Duplex – During a Carotid Duplex or Doppler examination, ultrasound is used to evaluate the carotid arteries located in the neck that feed the brain with blood. Gel is applied to the skin of the neck. A transducer is then placed on the gel-covered areas to obtain images and evaluate the blood flow in the arteries. Your doctor may order this test if you have physical examination findings or symptoms that suggest that you may have a blockage in the carotid artery.
- Transcranial Doppler (TCD) – The blood vessels that supply the brain within the skull are evaluated by Transcranial Doppler. This examination is performed with a small transducer that is placed on the skin of the face and head. This exam takes approximately 60 minutes.
- Venous Duplex – During a Venous Duplex or Doppler examination, ultrasound is used to evaluate the veins that carry blood to the heart from the legs or arms. Gel is applied to the skin of the legs or arms. A transducer is then placed on the gel-covered areas to obtain images and evaluate blood flow in the veins. Your doctor may order this to evaluate the cause of pain or swelling in your legs or arms.
- Arterial Duplex – During an Arterial Duplex or Doppler examination, ultrasound is used to evaluate the arteries that feed the arms and legs with blood. Gel is applied to the skin of the legs or arms. A transducer is then placed on the gel-covered areas to obtain images and evaluate the blood flow in the arms or legs. Your doctor may order this test to evaluate the cause of pain in the leg muscles with walking.
- Arterial Pressures and Waveforms – Ultrasound and blood pressure cuffs are used to evaluate the arteries that supply the arms and legs with blood. Several blood pressure cuffs are placed at different segments on the patient’s legs or arms. When inflated, the cuffs provide blood pressure readings as well as waveforms. This test will locate areas of blockage within the arteries. Your doctor may order this test to evaluate the cause of pain in the leg muscles with walking.
- Abdominal Vascular Duplex – During an Abdominal Vascular Duplex or Doppler examination, ultrasound is used to evaluate the blood vessels that bring blood to and away from the abdominal organs. Gel is applied to the abdomen. A transducer is then placed on the gel-covered areas to obtain images and evaluate blood flow in the arteries and/or veins.
Excerpts of this information are taken from the Society for Vascular Ultrasound’s five copyrighted patient education brochures, including “Vascular Testing and You.”