What is a Doppler ultrasound of the arm or leg?
A Doppler ultrasound of the arm or leg is a diagnostic imaging procedure that uses sound waves to view blood flow and other features of the vascular system. The sound waves cause the blood to flow more slowly, which makes the blood vessels appear as lines on the image. This technique is often used to detect blood clots in the veins, determine the extent of venous insufficiency (a condition in which the veins do not allow enough blood to flow to the extremities), and identify other vascular abnormalities.
There are two types of Doppler ultrasound of the arm and leg :
- Arterial Doppler Ultrasound: It detects blood flow through the arteries of the arms and legs, where any blockage can lead to peripheral vascular disease.
- Venous Doppler Ultrasound: It checks blood flow through the veins in the arms and legs and looks for clots in the extremities.
What are the reasons to do a Doppler ultrasound of the arm or leg?
A Doppler ultrasound of the arm and leg can be suggested in case you show signs of reduced blood flow in the arteries or veins of your legs, arms, or neck.
Reduced blood flow could be due to a blockage in an artery, a blood clot within a blood vessel, or injury to a blood vessel.
The sign and symptoms to do the Doppler ultrasound of the arm or leg :
- Deep vein thrombosis (DVT): a condition that occurs when a blood clot forms in a vein deep within the body (usually in the leg or hip area)
- Superficial thrombophlebitis: an inflammation of the veins due to a blood clot in a vein just below the surface of the skin.
- Atherosclerosis: the narrowing and hardening of the arteries that supply blood to the legs and feet.
- Obstructive vasculitis: a rare condition in which the blood vessels in the hands and feet become inflamed and swell.
- Vascular tumors in your arms or legs
Doppler ultrasound can help determine the blood pressure within the arteries. It can also show how much blood is currently flowing through your arteries and veins.
How to prepare before the Doppler ultrasound of the arm or leg?
In general, no preparation for this test is required. If you smoke, your doctor may ask you to stop smoking for several hours before the test. Smoking causes the blood vessels to narrow, which may affect test results.
What happens during the Doppler ultrasound of the arm or leg?
The test is usually done in a hospital radiology department, a doctor’s office, or a peripheral vascular laboratory. The procedure may vary slightly, but in general, you can expect the following:
- Clothes, jewelry, and any other items should be removed from the area to be investigated. However, there is no need to take off glasses, contact lenses, dentures, or hearing aids. You may be asked to wear a hospital gown.
- Before the procedure, you will be asked to lie on an examination table or bed.
- The doctor or technician specialist will then place a water-soluble gel on a portable device called a transducer, which directs high-frequency sound waves to the arteries or veins.
- To check the arteries, the person doing the test may place blood pressure cuffs around different areas of the body. The bracelets are usually placed on the thigh, calf, ankle, or at various points along the arm. These cuffs help compare the blood pressure in different parts of the leg or arm.
- The images are created when the transducer is pressed against your skin and moved along your arm or leg. The transducer sends sound waves through the skin and other body tissues into the blood vessels. The sound waves are echoed through the blood vessels and the information is sent to a computer for processing and recording. The computer will produce graphs or pictures showing blood flow through your arteries and veins. The transducer will move to different areas for comparison. You may hear a “whistling” sound while detecting blood flow.
What are the risks of the Doppler ultrasound of the arm or leg?
There is no risk of Doppler ultrasound of the arm and leg as it is a non-invasive, painless procedure that does not expose you to harmful radiation. Most people can experience little or no discomfort during the procedure.
How to interpret the results of the Doppler ultrasound of the arm or leg?
Normal test results indicate that there is no narrowing or blockage in the arteries. It also means that the blood pressure in the arteries is normal. Abnormal blood flow patterns, including narrowing or closing of the arteries, may indicate the following:
- Arterial blockage, which may be due to a buildup of cholesterol
- Blood clots in a vein or artery
- Poor circulation, which can be caused by damage to blood vessels
- Venous obstruction, or closure of a vein
- Spasmodic arterial disease is a condition in which the arteries constrict due to stress or exposure to cold weather
- Blockage or clots in an artificial side graft
Certain factors can jeopardize your results, which means that the test will need to be taken again. These factors include:
- Smokeless than an hour before the test
- Arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat
- Cardiovascular disease
The test results will be sent to your doctor. If any abnormalities are found, your doctor will explain the results in more detail and advise you about any other testing or treatment you may need. Although the ultrasound specialist administering the test has an idea of what to look for, they will not be able to discuss the test results during the test. The results should come from your doctor or advanced practice provider.
( Disclaimer: Information provided in this piece of article is purely for educational purposes only. All results must be clinically correlated with the patient’s data to make an accurate diagnosis.)