Diagnosing Vascular Disease

UPMC Content 3

The vascular system is the body's network of blood vessels. It includes the arteries, veins and lymphatics that carry blood to and from the heart. Problems of the vascular system are common and can be serious enough that life or limb may be threatened.

Risk Factors

You are more likely to have vascular disease as you get older. Other factors that make vascular disease more likely include:

  • Family history of vascular or heart diseases
  • Hypertension
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Pregnancy
  • Illness or injury
  • Long periods of sitting or standing
  • Obesity
  • Blood clotting disorders

Non-Invasive Vascular Testing

If you doctor suspects vascular disease, he or she may order non-invasive vascular testing. These are simple and painless tests using ultrasound to determine the presence, location, and severity of vascular disease.

Duplex Ultrasound

A duplex ultrasound combines traditional ultrasound images combined with Doppler ultrasound-derived flow information.

  • Traditional ultrasound uses sound waves that bounce off tissues to create images.
  • Doppler ultrasound records sound waves reflecting off moving objects, such as blood, which can be used to measure its speed and flow direction, which can demonstrate the severity of narrowing in a variety of vessels.

Ankle-Brachial Index (ABI) and Pulse-Volume Recordings (PVR): Arterial physiologic testing

Multiple blood pressure cuffs are placed on the arms or legs at different levels. The blood pressure and volume of blood flow is evaluated at each level. This is done to determine the severity of arterial disease and can help localize the location of the blockage in the arm or leg by looking at the blood flow or circulation through a series of tests.

Non-invasive vascular testing is often used to diagnose the following vascular diseases:

Arteries

  • Atherosclerosis
    • Carotid artery disease; can cause stroke
    • Peripheral arterial disease ( blockage to the arteries in the arms or legs); may cause pain or loss of limb
    • Renal artery stenosis (blockage of arteries to the kidney ); may cause hypertension
    • Mesenteric artery disease (blockage of the arteries to the intestines)
  • Aneurysm - Rupture can be lethal and ultrasound is a simple accurate way to measure and document the location of and aneurysm
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon - spasm of the small arteries of the hands and feet
  • Thoracic outlet syndrome - positional compression of the artery or vein in the shoulder
  • Trauma to the artery

Veins

  • Deep venous thrombosis (DVT/blood clot)
  • Superficial venous thrombosis (phlebitis)
  • Venous stasis ulcers
  • Varicose veins
  • Venous insufficiency
  • Trauma to the vein