An Introduction to Vascular Ultrasound
Vascular ultrasound is a type of ultrasound that focuses on the circulatory system. This technology uses soundwaves to produce images of veins and arteries. Vascular ultrasound can play an important role in diagnosing vascular disease and monitoring the vascular system after surgery. There are several types of vascular ultrasound. Two major exam types include renal artery ultrasound and lower extremity ultrasound.
Renal Artery Ultrasound
Renal artery ultrasound is a type of vascular ultrasound that focuses on the renal arteries, which supply blood to the kidneys. Renal ultrasound exams can help diagnose conditions that could lead to kidney failure. This includes screening for Nutcracker Syndrome. Nutcracker Syndrome occurs when arteries compress the left renal vein, which carries purified blood from the kidneys into the circulatory system. This rare disease was named Nutcracker Syndrome because the compression by the arteries is like a nutcracker squeezing a nut to crack it open. Renal artery ultrasound can also be used to monitor the renal arteries and veins after a kidney transplant.
Lower Extremity Ultrasound
Lower extremity vascular ultrasound is used to monitor the arteries and veins within the lower extremities, or legs. This type of ultrasound is used to help diagnose a variety of conditions that affect the vascular system. By monitoring blood flow in the veins within the groin and legs, a lower extremity ultrasound can help determine of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is present. DVT is a condition caused when a blood clot forms within the vein. If left untreated, blood clots can be life threatening. They can lead to a pulmonary embolism (PE), which occurs when a portion of a blood clot breaks off and becomes lodged in the lungs.
Lower extremity ultrasound exams can also help diagnose peripheral venous disease (PVD) and determine if it is spreading. PVD can include peripheral arterial disease (PAD), chronic venous insufficiency, and varicose veins. PAD is characterized by the narrowing of vessel that carry blood into the legs. It is usually caused by atherosclerosis, or the buildup of fatty plaque within the arteries.
Chronic venous insufficiency occurs when valves within the veins are not working properly, and this inhibits blood flow back to the heart. Lower extremity ultrasound can also help identify the seriousness of varicose veins. Varicose veins are usually visible on the surface of the legs because they are dark or bulging in appearance. This condition can cause chronic pain and blood clots.
Importance of Vascular Ultrasound
Vascular ultrasound exams are a safe, noninvasive way to diagnose all kinds of vascular disease. Renal artery and lower extremity ultrasounds can help identify potential blood clots and monitor existing conditions or post-surgery progress.
If your doctor thinks you may be at risk for vascular disease, or if you are exhibiting symptoms, they may recommend a vascular ultrasound exam. When performed by trained technologists, these ultrasound exams can help diagnose disease and provide your doctor with vital information for future treatment.
Guest Contributor: Jordan Galerkin
- About Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD). American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/peripheral-artery-disease/about-peripheral-artery-disease-pad
- Renal Nutcracker Syndrome. Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center, National Institute of Health. https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/11971/renal-nutcracker-syndrome
- What is a Renal Artery Ultrasound? Vascular Health Clinics. https://www.vascularhealthclinics.org/institutes-divisions/diagnostic-imaging/renal-artery-ultrasound/
- What is Peripheral Venous Disease and How Do I Know if I Have it? Vein and Vascular Solutions NYC. https://www.vascularsolutionsnyc.com/blog/what-is-peripheral-venous-disease-and-how-do-i-know-if-i-have-it