What is a Vascular Ultrasound?

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  • Written By: Jennifer Fenn
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 22 January 2020
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A vascular ultrasound uses high frequency sound waves to produce a picture of systems or organs inside the body. These images show real-time images of the body's internal movements and functioning, making an ultrasound more valuable than an x-ray, which produces a still picture, in some cases. A vascular ultrasound in particular shows pictures of the veins and arteries. The areas of the body most commonly assessed by a vascular ultrasound include the neck, arms and legs.

During a vascular ultrasound, a transducer is used to send sound waves into the body and record the waves that are reflected back as the sound is bounced off the body's organs. These sound waves are generally inaudible. A computer interprets this data and produces a picture that can be viewed on a screen. A radiologist will then analyze these pictures, and work with a patient's primary care physician to determine what to do next.


A Doppler ultrasound can be a valuable tool when performing a vascular ultrasound. This type of ultrasound technique can show blood moving through the arteries, organs and veins, and help doctors diagnose a particular illness or problem. A vascular ultrasound can show such problems as tumors, blood clots, blockages, plaque, emboli, and enlarged arteries. These ultrasounds can also help doctors evaluate candidates for angioplasties and bypass surgeries and assess the body's response to a newly transplanted organ. The cause and severity of a stroke can also be determined through a vascular ultrasound.

To perform a vascular ultrasound, a radiologist or sonographer will apply a warm gel to the area being observed. This is often done while the patient is lying down. Then the transducer will be placed against the skin, moving it over the area until the desired images are produced. Depending on the equipment used, the patient may hear a pulsing sound or feel a slight amount of pressure.

In preparation for a vascular ultrasound, patients should remove all jewelry and will probably be asked to wear a loose gown. Ultrasounds are generally painless and fast, though depending on the area of the body being viewed, patients may be asked to refrain from swallowing or breathing. No adverse effects on patients have been recorded. Many patients prefer this method of testing as there aren't any needles, anesthetics, dyes or radiation involved. Patients are also free to eat and drink before the procedure. A standard ultrasound takes about thirty to ninety minutes.



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