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A Doppler ultrasound is a test that uses high-frequency sound waves to measure the amount of blood flow through your arteries and veins, usually those that supply blood to your arms and legs.
Vascular flow studies, also known as blood flow studies, can detect abnormal flow within an artery or blood vessel. This can help to diagnose and treat a variety of conditions, including blood clots and poor circulation. A Doppler ultrasound can be used as part of a blood flow study.
A Doppler ultrasound is a risk-free and pain-free procedure that requires little preparation. The test provides your doctor with important information about the flow of blood through your major arteries and veins. It can also reveal blocked or reduced blood flow through narrowed areas in the arteries, which could eventually lead to a stroke.
Your doctor may suggest a Doppler ultrasound exam if you show signs of decreased blood flow in the arteries or veins of your legs, arms, or neck. A reduced amount of blood flow may be due to a blockage in the artery, a blood clot inside a blood vessel, or an injury to a blood vessel.
Your doctor may order a Doppler ultrasound exam if you show signs of:
A Doppler ultrasound can help determine the blood pressure within your arteries. It can also show how much blood is currently flowing through your arteries and veins.
In general, there’s no preparation required for this test. If you’re a smoker, your doctor may ask you to stop smoking for several hours before the test. Smoking causes your blood vessels to narrow, which can affect the results of your test.
A Doppler ultrasound is a noninvasive, painless procedure that doesn’t expose you to harmful radiation. There are no risks associated with this test, and most people feel little to no discomfort during the procedure.
The test is usually performed in the radiology department of a hospital, doctor's office, or peripheral vascular laboratory. The procedure can vary slightly, but in general, you can expect the following:
When examining your leg arteries and veins, your doctor will look for narrowing of the blood vessels. This condition may cause skin discoloration, pain when you walk or rest, and ulcers on the foot or ankle.
The test will be completed in about an hour. Depending on your signs and symptoms, you may be asked to perform some mild exercises after the procedure.
In general, there are no special instructions following a Doppler ultrasound. You may resume your usual activities right away, unless your doctor tells you otherwise.
Normal test results indicate that you have no narrowing or blockages in your arteries. It also means that the blood pressure in your arteries is normal. Abnormal blood flow patterns, including narrowing or closing of the arteries, can indicate:
Some factors may compromise your results, which means the test will need to be done again. These factors include:
The test results will be sent to your doctor. If any abnormalities are found, your doctor will explain your results in more detail and inform you about any additional tests or treatments you may need. Although the ultrasonographer administering the test has an idea of what he or she is looking at, they will be unable to discuss the results of the test during the exam. The results must come from your doctor or advanced practice provider.
Written by: Ann Pietrangelo
Medically reviewed on: May 02, 2017: Carissa Stephens, RN, BSN, CCRN, CPN
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