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What Is Vascular Doppler?

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  • Written By: Robert Robillard
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 25 June 2014
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Anyone who has watched a local weather forecast or looked at a fish finder has seen a Doppler image. The medical community has also used the Doppler effect to its advantage for many years. Vascular Doppler testing allows a physician to look directly at how blood flows through a patient's arteries in real time. In so doing, he can detect narrowing of the arteries, blockages, and even blood clots. He can also easily monitor the progression of arterial disease.

A vascular Doppler sonography is also referred to as a vascular ultrasound. Ultrasound testing uses high frequency sound waves to create an image of the area being studied. This is done with a transducer that is pressed against the skin. The transducer sends the sound waves, and records the image as the waves are reflected back. This image is instantly transmitted to a video monitor for the technician to see, and can be recorded on video.

For vascular Doppler sonography, the technician will concentrate these sound waves on the patient's heart and blood vessels. While nearly any blood vessel can be studied with this type of sonogram, the doctor is usually interested in just a few major veins and arteries. The most common areas of interest are the arteries and veins of the legs, abdomen, and head and neck.

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While this test may sound somewhat scary, the vascular Doppler is completely noninvasive. The only thing that actually penetrates the skin are the sound waves. A clear, water based gel is applied to the skin in the areas being examined to create a better contact for the transducer.

As the technician moves the transducer around on the skin, the patient may hear some high pitched pulsing sounds as blood flow is studied. The technician may also need to apply blood pressure cuffs to the patient's arms or legs to take readings on the vessels being examined. A radiologist then analyzes the video and prepares a report for the doctor.

There are no known side effects or complications associated with Doppler ultrasound. This procedure is routinely and safely performed on pregnant women. Vascular Doppler does not rely on ionizing radiation, and offers a clear picture of soft tissues that may not be seen on an X-ray.

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