What Should Patients Expect from Duplex Ultrasound?

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Quite often when a patient sees a vascular surgeon about varicose vein treatment, the physician orders a duplex ultrasound.  Patients sometimes wonder why this is necessary when their blue or purple, gnarled varicose veins are embarrassingly visible.  Understanding what this test is and what to expect from it is important to a good treatment outcome.

Why Does a Vein Doctor Order This Test?

Although many varicose veins appear obvious, others lie deep under the surface of the skin.  To find out more about these deeper veins, vein specialists frequently order a special ultrasound.

This diagnostic vascular test is actually a combination of traditional and Doppler ultrasound, MedlinePlus indicates.  Traditional ultrasound forms images for a radiologist to review from sound waves that bounce off veins.  Doppler ultrasound catches waves as they reflect off moving objects like flowing blood and records their speed and other movement characteristics.

A vascular surgeon is likely to order this technology for patients needing treatment for any type of chronic venous insufficiency.  It can also help diagnose these disorders:

  • Renal vascular disease
  • Blood clots
  • Arterial occlusions
  • Carotid occlusive disease
  • Abdominal aneurysms

The combination technology is one of three important tools upon which a vein doctor relies to treat vascular problems, according to Stony Brook Medicine.  Partnered with a physical exam and a medical history, it is helpful in developing an individualized treatment plan for every varicose vein patient.

What Patients Should Expect

Unless the appointment involves an abdominal scan, patients do not normally have to follow any particular preparation before the procedure.  For an abdominal ultrasound, however, The Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center says an individual should stop eating or drinking before midnight of the night prior to the test.

The staff usually asks the individual to change into a gown before entering the room where scans occur. The technician on duty applies a special gel to targeted areas. 

Patients lie on a table during this combination procedure and remain still.  Sometimes an individual must change the position of his or her body or hold the breath for short periods.  When the staff needs to calculate a value known as an ankle-brachial index, the technician brings in blood pressure cuffs and places them on the patient’s arms and legs.

During the procedure, the staff moves a wand called a transducer over the targeted area,  As it sends out sound waves, a computerized measurement tracks how they reflect back, then translates them into images for healthcare providers to review, MedlinePlus says. 

It is common to hear a “swishing” type of sound during this exam.  The patient’s blood makes this sound as it travels through various vessels.

This procedure carries no special risks.  While some pressure usually occurs as the wand moves, most patients experience no discomfort during their appointments.