What is vascular ultrasound?

Vascular ultrasound is a non-invasive and remarkably versatile procedure used to examine the circulation in the blood vessels of the body. Doppler ultrasound may be part of a vascular ultrasound examination and is a technique which uses high-frequency sound waves to evaluate blood velocity as it flows through the body’s major arteries and veins in the abdomen, arms, legs and neck.

This type of exam is “non-invasive,” meaning no needles or anaesthesia are required. Unlike many other imaging tests, ultrasound can be performed without radiation or contrast dye.

Why would I need a Vascular ultrasound scan?

Your doctor may suggest a Doppler ultrasound exam if you show signs of decreased blood flow in the arteries or veins of your legs, arms, or neck. A reduced amount of blood flow may be due to a blockage in the artery, a blood clot inside a blood vessel, or an injury to a blood vessel.

Vascular ultrasound can be performed to:

  • diagnose presence, severity and location of arterial blockages (stenosis) caused by plaque or emboli and help plan for their effective treatment
  • detect blood clots known as deep venous thrombosis (DVT) in the legs or arms
  • evaluate the success of bypass graft or stenting procedures
  • determine if there is an enlarged artery (aneurysm)
  • determine the source and severity of varicose veins

The procedure

The scan will take place in a darkened room, the patient will either sit or lie on a bed or stand on a step depending on the test you are having. To bet the best results from the scan the patient should remain as still as possible. 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 then presses the transducer lightly against the skin and sweeps it over the area of the body being scanned.

A vascular ultrasound examination can take between 15-60 minutes to complete depending on the body part being imaged. The person being scanned is then free to leave, results of the scan are given later at another appointment by the referring clinician.

Senior Clinical Vascular Scientist in an NHS Trust