What to Expect During a Vascular Ultrasound

For most ultrasound exams, the patient is positioned lying face-up on an examination table that can be tilted or moved.

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 (ultrasound technologist) or radiologist then presses the transducer firmly against the skin and sweeps it over the area of interest.

Doppler sonography is performed using the same transducer.

The sonographer or radiologist is often able to review the ultrasound images in real-time as they are acquired and you can be released immediately. There may be an occasion, however, where you are asked to dress and wait while the ultrasound images are reviewed.

Time Consideration

This ultrasound examination is usually completed within 30 minutes.

Other Factors

Most ultrasound examinations are painless, fast and easy.

There is usually no discomfort from pressure as the transducer is pressed against the area being examined.

If scanning is performed over an area of tenderness, you may feel pressure or minor pain from the transducer.

If a Doppler ultrasound study is performed, you may actually hear pulse-like sounds that change in pitch as the blood flow is monitored and measured.

Once the imaging is complete, the gel will be wiped off your skin.

After an ultrasound exam, you should be able to resume your normal activities within a few hours.

Limitations of Vascular Ultrasound

Vessels deep in the body are harder to see than superficial vessels. Specialized equipment or other tests such as CT or MRI may be necessary to properly visualize them.

Smaller vessels are more difficult to image and evaluate than larger vessels.

Calcifications that occur as a result of atherosclerosis may obstruct the ultrasound beam.

Sometimes ultrasound cannot differentiate between a blood vessel that is closed versus one that is nearly closed. Even if there is a very small remaining opening, the weak blood flow produces a sometimes undetectable signal.

The test is specialized and is best performed by a technologist and physician with experience and interest in vascular ultrasound imaging.