You may think medical ultrasounds relate only to pregnancy, but they are crucial for so many other health care uses, as well. October is Medical Ultrasound Awareness Month geared toward educating the public about the different applications of this procedure and celebrating the technicians in this field of work. Routine vein and artery checks are, in many cases, lifesaving procedures. Learn more about how ultrasound is becoming an essential tool to diagnose patients.

What are medical ultrasounds used for?

Medical ultrasound is most commonly known for its usage in pregnancy screening and monitoring, but this technology has many other uses. Patients of any age and for different medical purposes can benefit from an ultrasound. An ultrasound is an effective tool to examine internal body structure to produce medical imaging. Images investigate fetal development, vascular systems, abdominal organs, and musculoskeletal systems. 

  • Fetal scans look for abnormalities like spina bifida, monitor growth, and check the position of the fetus. 
  • Vascular scans measure the direction and speed of blood flow. 
  • Abdominal scans will investigate organs like the gallbladder, pancreas, spleen, and kidneys. 
  • Musculoskeletal scans can include breast scans, shoulder and hip regions, and even eye scans.

Why are vascular ultrasounds important?

Vascular ultrasounds are important because they are able to assess arteries and veins in almost all parts of the body. This method is also non-invasive, unlike other procedures that require dyes, radiation, needles, and anesthesia. Instead of these invasive techniques, a vascular ultrasound makes use of sound waves that transmit through tissue. These waves create an image as they reflect off blood cells moving through veins. The image created is visible in real-time, which aids doctors in moving about to examine areas of interest. 

When blood flow is faster than normal limits, it indicates that a vein passage is narrow and is at risk for blockages. By mapping blood vessels this way, your doctor can determine if vessels have blockages and can make sure arteries are open and functioning correctly. Plaque development and blood clots can be spotted with vascular ultrasound. These clots are often found in the legs and arms and are also known as deep vein thrombosis. DVT can cause serious lung, heart, and brain complications if left untreated. Ultrasound imaging is often used as a non-invasive follow up for patients who have undergone bypass grafts and stents. Doctors can actively measure the success of these procedures or determine if they are good candidates for these types of vascular procedures.

What is a vascular ultrasound like?

Ultrasounds are a relatively easy procedure for the patient. The patient will lie down and remain still during the exam unless a change of position is needed to capture images. It may be necessary to change into a hospital for testing. A gel is applied to the area to be examined, which allows a transducer to relay images back to a computer and video screen. Ultrasound waves do not work through air and need fluid to bounce off of, which is why the gel is used. These high-frequency waves can’t be heard by the human ear but will be picked up by the transducer. Depending on the area to be tested, you may need to fast or to have a full bladder. An ultrasound has no side effects or dangerous materials and is completely painless.

Contact our office to schedule a vascular ultrasound for routine screening, to asses varicose veins, and especially if you are experiencing pain. We believe routine screenings and a better understanding of the options available to our patients will ensure vascular health. Our doctors are compassionate, board-certified vascular surgeons in the Nashville area with the experience needed to correctly read medical ultrasound images.