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Doppler Ultrasound Exam of Arm or Leg

Definition

This test uses ultrasound to examine the blood flow in the major 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.

To examine the veins:

A water-soluble gel is placed on a handheld device called a transducer, which directs the high-frequency sound waves to the artery or veins being tested.

To examine the arteries:

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 being examined. Images are created as the transducer is moved over each area.

How to prepare for the test

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

How the test will feel

There is little or no discomfort associated with this test.

Why the test is performed

This test is done as an alternative to arteriography and venography. It may help diagnose:

  • Arteriosclerosis of the arms or legs
  • Blood clot (deep vein thrombosis)
  • Venous insufficiency

The test may also be used to evaluate injury to the arteries and to monitor arterial reconstruction and bypass grafts.

Normal Values

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

What abnormal results mean

Abnormal results may be due to:

  • Blockage in an artery by a blood clot, piece of fat, or an air bubble
  • Blood clot in an artery or vein
  • Spastic arterial disease (arterial contractions brought on by cold or emotion)
  • Venous occlusion (closing of vein)

Additional conditions under which this test may be performed include:

  • Arteriosclerosis of the extremities
  • Deep venous thrombosis
  • Superficial thrombophlebitis
  • Thromboangiitis obliterans
  • Vascular tumors of the arms or legs

What the risks are

There are no risks specifically associated with this procedure.

Special considerations

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

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

Review Date: 5/13/2010

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Information developed by A.D.A.M., Inc. regarding tests and test results may not directly correspond with information provided by UCSF Medical Center. Please discuss with your doctor any questions or concerns you may have.