​Screening for Vascular Disease

UPMC Content 2

A Simple Test That Could Save Your Life

Arteries are blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood throughout the body.  A buildup of plaque and cholesterol inside these arteries can reduce blood flow to your organs and other parts of your body. 

Most people are familiar with coronary heart disease; however an arterial blockage can affect any artery in the body including arteries in the brain, arms, legs, and abdomen.

Who Should Have a Vascular Screening?

The vascular surgeons at the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute, as well as several national organizations, recommend a vascular screening for people with the following risk factors:

  • Over the age of 60
  • Diabetic
  • Smoke
  • High blood pressure
  • Family history of cardiovascular disease
  • Family history of aortic aneurysm

How Do I Prepare for the Test?

  • Do not eat or drink for 5 to 6 hours prior to the exam. Medications with small sips of water are allowed.
  • Wear loose fitting clothing — no turtle neck shirts and no panty hose.

What Diseases are Tested and How is Each Test Performed?

A vascular screening test will evaluate for three of the most recognized vascular problems: abdominal aortic aneurysm, carotid artery disease, and peripheral arterial disease.

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) — An enlargement that occurs due to a weakening in the wall of the abdominal aorta.

An aneurysm can become so large that it can rupture.

Learn more about AAAs, including how they are diagnosed and treated.

During an AAA screening procedure, patients are asked to lie flat on their back on the exam table. A thick gel is placed on their abdomen.

The ultrasound technologist will obtain images and measurements of the aorta by moving an instrument called a transducer across the abdomen. The largest diameter of the aorta is measured to determine the presence or absence of an AAA.

This is a painless, non-invasive procedure.

Carotid Artery Disease — The carotid arteries carry blood to the brain. A buildup of plaque within the carotid artery can limit the blood flow to the brain.

When the buildup becomes severe, it can cause a stroke where a lack of oxygen and other essential nutrients cause damage to the brain.

Learn more about carotid artery disease, including carotid stenosis and stroke.

During a screening procedure for carotid artery disease, patients are asked to lie flat on their back on the exam table. A thick gel is placed on their neck.

The ultrasound technologist will obtain images of the carotid artery and measure the velocity of the blood flowing through the carotid artery by moving an instrument called a transducer across the neck.

The presence or absence of plaque within the artery is noted. The velocity of the blood flowing through the artery is used to calculate the percentage of stenosis (narrowing) within the artery.

This is a painless, non-invasive procedure.

Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) — A buildup of plaque within the arteries that supply oxygen-rich blood to your limbs and pelvis.

PAD of the lower extremities can produce a myriad of symptoms. In its most severe form, PAD can lead to painful ulcers, infection, and even gangrene.

Learn more about PAD, including how it is diagnosed and treated.

During a PAD screening procedure, patients are asked to lie flat on their back on the exam table with their socks and shoes off.

The technologist will measure the blood pressure at the ankles and in both arms. A ratio of the ankle to arm pressures is calculated to determine the ankle-brachial index (ABI). The ABI is used to determine the presence or absence of peripheral arterial disease.

This is a painless, non-invasive procedure.

Scheduling a Vascular Screening Exam

For more information, or to schedule a vascular screening, please call 412-802-3333.

You may choose to schedule your exam at one of the following locations:

UPMC Passavant Professional Offices
9100 Babcock Boulevard
Suite 1135
Pittsburgh, PA 15237

Shadyside Medical Building
5200 Centre Avenue, Suite 307
Pittsburgh, PA 15232

UPMC St. Margaret
200 Medical Arts Building, Suite 4050
200 Delafield Road
Pittsburgh, PA 15215

Who Will Perform My Vascular Screening?

All vascular screening tests done at the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute are performed by registered vascular technologists under the direction of the vascular surgeon. 

Our vascular labs are accredited by the Intersocietal Accreditation Commission for Vascular Testing (ICAVL).

When Will I Receive My Results?

You will be given a copy of your results immediately following the exam. A copy of the results will also be sent to your doctor upon request.

This is a screening exam; you should follow up with your doctor about any abnormal findings. Patients with abnormal findings may need a complete diagnostic test to make a definitive diagnosis and determine if treatment is needed. Your doctor will decide whether further testing is necessary.

Learn more about how our experts diagnose vascular disease.