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Peripheral Vascular Ultrasound

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Definition | Reasons for Test | Possible Complications | What to Expect | Call Your Doctor


Peripheral vascular ultrasound is a test used to evaluate the health of blood vessels. Ultrasound uses sound waves to capture images of structures inside the body. It is similar to the use of sonar in submarines.

Reasons for Test

The test may be used to investigate the cause of the following symptoms:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Increased warmth or coolness in the extremity
  • Difficulty finding pulses
  • Bulging veins

It may also be used to diagnose the cause or severity of:

  • Poor circulation due to blocked or narrowed blood vessels
  • Blood clots
  • Poor blood vessel function

Leg Veins

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The procedure is also used to evaluate the results of vascular surgery.

Possible Complications

There are no major complications associated with this test.

What to Expect

No special preparation is needed for this test.

Gel will be placed on the skin of your arm or leg over the area being tested.

There are two types of ultrasound:

One is a simple one-dimensional beam that detects movement by making a swishing sound. A hand-held device is pushed against your skin in the area being tested. Sound waves are sent into the body and bounce back to the machine. This is used to detect blood flow in arteries that may be narrowed. It may also be used to check for blood flow in veins that the doctor is concerned about.

The other technique makes a two-dimensional image. The ultrasound machine has a hand-held instrument called a transducer, which looks like a microphone or wand. The transducer is pushed against your skin where the gel was applied. The transducer sends sound waves into your body. The waves bounce off structures in the body and echo back to the transducer. The echoes are converted to images that are shown on a screen. The doctor examines the images on the screen. He may make a photograph of them as well.

You will be able to leave after the test is done.

30-60 minutes


The results will let your doctor know if you need further testing or treatment.

Call Your Doctor

Call your doctor if you have any questions about the test, your condition, or your test results.

If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.


American Heart Association


Society of Radiologists in Ultrasound



Mount Sinai Hospital, Canada


Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada



Vascular ultrasound. John Hopkins Medicine website. Available at: http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/heart_vascular_institute/conditions_treatments/treatments/vascular_ultrasound.html. Accessed May 22, 2013.

Vascular ultrasound. Radiological Society of North America Radiology Info website. Available at: http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=vascularus. Updated August 28, 2012. Accessed May 22, 2013.

What is vascular ultrasound? Vascular ultrasound website. Available at: http://www.vascularultrasound.net/vascular-ultrasound. Updated August 7, 2010. Accessed May 22, 2013.

Last reviewed May 2013 by Ganson Purcell Jr., MD, FACOG, FACPE; Brian Randall, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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