Vascular ultrasound provides pictures of the body's veins and arteries. A Doppler ultrasound study may be part of a vascular ultrasound examination.
Doppler ultrasound is a special ultrasound technique that evaluates blood velocity as it flows through a blood vessel, including the body's major arteries and veins in the abdomen, arms, legs and neck.
For most ultrasound exams, the patient is positioned lying face-up on an examination table that can be tilted or moved.
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. The sonographer or radiologist then presses the transducer firmly against the skin and sweeps it over the area of interest.
Doppler sonography is performed using the same transducer.
This ultrasound examination is usually completed within 15 minutes.
Sonography is a useful way of evaluating the body's circulatory system. Vascular ultrasound is performed to:
- help monitor the 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 (DVT) in 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 images can help the physician to see and evaluate:
- blockages to blood flow (such as clots).
- narrowing of vessels (which may be caused by plaque).
- tumors and congenital malformation.
What are the limitations of Vascular (arterial) 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 that occur as a result of atherosclerosis may obstruct the ultrasound beam.
- Sometimes ultrasound cannot differentiate between a blood vessel that is closed versus one that is nearly closed. Even if there is a very small remaining opening, the weak blood flow produces a sometimes undetectable signal.
- The test is specialized and is best performed by a technologist and physician with experience and interest in vascular ultrasound imaging.