A vascular ultrasound exam, often called a Doppler ultrasound scan, gives your doctor a great deal of information about your blood vessels and about the way blood is passing through them. Doppler ultrasound is particularly well suited to evaluating problems within your veins and arteries. Because we have blood vessels throughout our bodies, Doppler ultrasound may be used almost anywhere. Some of the most common sites where Doppler ultrasound is used are in the neck, abdomen, and legs. In your neck, Doppler ultrasound is used to look at carotid arteries. These vessels supply large amounts of blood to your brain and can become blocked. Blockage can lead to stroke. In your abdomen, Doppler ultrasound can be used to help evaluate blood flow to the liver and many other organs in your abdomen. Doppler ultrasound also is used to evaluate blood flow in your legs and can be helpful in identifying blockages in your arteries and clots in your veins. Most of the noninvasive ultrasound and physiologic vascular procedures are performed in the Vascular Laboratory, which specializes in vascular testing. The Vascular Laboratory is located within the Ultrasound Department.
There is no pain involved in an ultrasound examination, and for most Doppler ultrasound exams, no preparation is necessary. Your doctor could ask you to refrain from eating on the morning of your exam if the ultrasound scan involves your upper abdomen. A gel is applied to your skin and an instrument, called a transducer, is then placed on the area to be examined. This gel can feel cool and, even though it wipes off easily, it is a good idea to wear clothing that is easily washable.
The images made by the returning echoes are displayed on one or more monitors, which look like small television screens. In addition, returning sound waves that have been reflected by moving blood can be heard by means of speakers in the instrument. The sounds could be compared to the sound of wind blowing through the trees. The room is usually darkened during the examination to make it easier for the sonographer or doctor to see the images on the monitor.
The average Doppler ultrasound exam takes 30 to 60 minutes. The length of the exam depends on numerous factors, including the portion of your body to be examined and the complexity of the anatomy. With arteriosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, the vessels might be very difficult to evaluate and may require more scanning time.
A Doppler ultrasound examination can be performed by a doctor or by a vascular technologist or sonographer - an individual specially trained to perform ultrasound exams. A doctor will interpret the examination results.
In many cases, follow-up exams are necessary to evaluate the progress of your condition or your response to therapy.