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Doppler ultrasound exam of an arm or leg

Peripheral vascular disease - Doppler; PVD - Doppler; PAD - Doppler; Blockage of leg arteries - Doppler; Intermittent claudication - Doppler; Arterial insufficiency of the legs - Doppler; Leg pain and cramping - Doppler; Calf pain - Doppler; Venous Doppler - DVT

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Considerations

Cigarette smoking may alter the results of this test. Nicotine can cause the arteries in the extremities to constrict.

Quitting smoking lowers the risk for problems with the heart and circulatory system. Most smoking-related deaths are caused by cardiovascular problems, not lung cancer.

Definition

This test uses ultrasound to look at the blood flow in the large arteries and veins in the arms and legs.

How the Test is Performed

The test is done in the ultrasound or radiology department or in a peripheral vascular lab.

During the exam:

  • A water-soluble gel is placed on a handheld device called a transducer. This device directs high-frequency sound waves to the artery or veins being tested.
  • Blood pressure cuffs may be put around different parts of the body, including the thigh, calf, ankle, and different points along the arm.
  • A paste is applied to the skin over the arteries or veins being examined. Images are created as the transducer is moved over each area.

How the Test will Feel

Sometimes, the person performing the test will need to press on the vein to make sure it does not have a clot. Some people may feel slight pain.

How to Prepare for the Test

You will need to remove clothes from the arm or leg being examined.

Normal Results

A normal result means the blood vessels show no signs of narrowing, clots, or closure, and the arteries have normal blood flow.

Risks

There are no risks from this procedure.

What Abnormal Results Mean

Abnormal results may be due to:

  • Blockage in an artery by a blood clot
  • Blood clot in a vein (DVT)
  • Narrowing or widening of an artery
  • Spastic arterial disease (arterial contractions brought on by cold or emotion)
  • Venous occlusion (closing of a vein)
  • Venous reflux (blood flow going the wrong direction in veins)
  • Arterial occlusion from atherosclerosis

This test may also be done to help assess the following conditions:

Why the Test is Performed

This test is done as the first step to look at arteries and veins. Sometimes, arteriography and venography may be needed later. The test is done to help diagnose:

The test may also be used to:

  • Look at injury to the arteries
  • Monitor arterial reconstruction and bypass grafts

Review Date: 12/31/2017
Reviewed By: Jason Levy, MD, Northside Radiology Associates, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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