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3 Things to Know About Vascular Ultrasound

Vascular ultrasound is a non-invasive medical examination that helps evaluate veins and arteries. The test is useful in detecting underlying problems in blood vessels located in the arms, legs, neck and abdomen. The diagnostic imaging procedure uses high-frequency sound waves to determine blood circulation in the body. Read on to learn more about vascular ultrasounds.

How it Works

During a vascular ultrasound examination, sound waves from an ultrasound machine penetrate body tissues being analysed. The waves bounce off blood cells as they travel within blood vessels and return to the device for recording, displaying and analysis. Therefore, you see the image of blood vessels under examination on a screen. An ultrasound specialist (sonographer) determines how fast the sound waves return to the equipment, which is vital in calculating blood flow speed in veins or arteries. 

Why Vascular Ultrasound?

Vascular ultrasound exams are performed for a myriad of reasons. The exam can be done to detect clots in veins. Also, ultrasound helps evaluate patients that have undergone a vascular procedure, such as a stent or bypass. Similarly, the examination helps assess blood flow in veins and arteries to detect the location, severity and disease presence. Besides, vascular ultrasound aids in diagnosing the narrowing of arteries. The imaging can also confirm leaky valves or chronic venous insufficiency that can cause swelling. 

Types of Vascular Ultrasound

The common types of vascular ultrasound exams include carotid (neck arteries), abdominal aorta ultrasound (AAA), peripheral arterial (ABI) and peripheral venous (DVT). Carotid ultrasound assesses blood flow in the neck's two carotid arteries, which supply blood to the brain. Carotid ultrasound tests show whether arteries have narrowed, putting a patient at risk of stroke. Early diagnosis can help a patient implement a surgical treatment or medical plan to eliminate or reduce arterial blockages, which can be fatal.

Peripheral venous or Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) ultrasound is used for imaging arms and legs in search of clots. Therefore, DVT ultrasound is integral for investigating redness and swelling limbs, superficial thrombophlebitis, varicose veins and deep vein thrombosis. Another type of ultrasound examination is peripheral arterial (ABI), which assesses blood flow between legs, arms, groin and ankles. The exam determines the blood pressure difference between the arm and ankle, also known as the ankle-brachial index (ABI). Unlike a DVT, an ABI ultrasound looks at the narrowing of blood vessels instead of blood clots. Therefore, ABI ultrasound is necessary to investigate heel, ankle, foot ulcers, muscle cramps, resting leg pain and difficulty in walking long distances.