A vascular ultrasound is an imaging test used to evaluate the circulatory system — arteries, veins, and capillaries. Arteries deliver oxygenated blood to the body, veins return deoxygenated blood to the heart and lungs, and capillaries, the smallest blood vessels, ensure that blood can reach and return from all the tissues.
At Comprehensive Vascular Care in Novi and Southfield, Michigan, our team of board-certified vascular specialists uses vascular ultrasound to diagnose or rule out a number of vascular conditions. Here’s why your doctor may order the test and what you can expect during it.
Conditions detected with a vascular ultrasound
A vascular ultrasound is a versatile test that can detect problems with all parts of the circulatory system. Here are a number of conditions that can be diagnosed with the test.
Venous insufficiency (VI)
This problem stems from the veins in your legs. To return blood to the heart, the veins have to move it against the pull of gravity. One way they accomplish this is through valves that snap shut after the blood passes by. If the vein walls or the valves become damaged, say by high blood pressure, blood flow becomes sluggish and pools around the damaged area, leading to insufficient flow and the later stages of vein disease, including varicose veins and deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
Up to 40% of US adults suffer from some form of VI, which can turn chronic (CVI) if not treated. An ultrasound can determine the cause of the insufficiency, allowing your doctor to treat it appropriately.
Peripheral artery disease (PAD)
This circulatory system disease affects over 8 million people in the United States 40 and older. Here, the arteries become narrowed, decreasing blood flow to the extremities and depriving them of essential nutrients.
The most common cause of PAD is atherosclerosis, colloquially known as “hardening of the arteries.” A sticky plaque made of fat, cholesterol, protein, calcium, and cellular debris builds up on the artery walls and hardens, narrowing the conduit. A vascular ultrasound can detect the narrowing.
Carotid artery disease/carotid occlusive disease
The carotid arteries are two large blood vessels on either side of your neck that supply the front part of the brain with blood. This area controls thought, speech, personality, and motor and sensory functions.
Carotid artery disease, also called carotid occlusive disease, refers to the narrowing or blockage of these important arteries. The narrowing usually comes from atherosclerosis, and it puts you at an increased risk for a stroke, the 5th leading cause of death in the US.
In addition, if the plaque ruptures, it can form a clot that obstructs blood flow either partially or completely. A partial disruption in blood flow is called carotid stenosis, while a complete blockage is called a carotid occlusion.
A vascular ultrasound can detect both a narrowing and a blockage of these arteries.
Types of vascular ultrasound
In addition to a carotid ultrasound, there are four other types of tests we use.
- Aortic ultrasound: looks for weaknesses in the aorta (largest blood vessel) that may indicate an aneurysm (a ballooning of the wall)
- Renal artery ultrasound: evaluates blood flow into your kidneys and looks for blockages
- Mesenteric arterial duplex tests: locates blockages in abdominal arteries
- Lower extremity arterial doppler exam: evaluates blood flow through your leg arteries, looking for plaque buildup; useful to diagnose PAD
All use the same technology and method, but they evaluate the health of different parts of your circulatory system.
What to expect during a vascular ultrasound
There’s no special preparation for a vascular ultrasound, and it’s a completely noninvasive, painless test.
You lay on your back on an exam table. The doctor applies a gel to the area being studied and uses a special transducer that sends sound waves (ultrasound) into your body. The waves reflect off the blood cells as they move through the arteries and veins and return to the transducer. The information is sent to a computer monitor that translates the sound into moving images.
That’s it. The doctor discusses your results with you and draws up a customized treatment plan.
If you’re experiencing pain in your legs, swelling, or shortness of breath, you may have an underlying vascular problem that needs addressing. The experts at Comprehensive Vascular Care can help. Call us at either of our locations to schedule a consultation, or book online today.