Vascular disease is common in the U.S., alongside an increase of Type 2 diabetes and obesity.
Vascular disease takes place in the network of blood vessels that transport blood throughout your body. The blockage or dysfunction of any of these vessels leads to familiar conditions such as stroke, heart attack, or aneurism.
The good news is, your doctor can conduct a vascular study on your system to determine any early signs of disease. Early detection will help you lower any future risk of a larger vascular problem.
This guide will help you learn what vascular tests your doctor might order and what to expect when tested.
Common Non-Imaging Vascular Tests
Besides the well-known “stress” test, where your blood pressure and heart rate are monitored while you exercise on a treadmill, there are other noninvasive tests that can be administered right in the doctor’s office. Some examples are:
Ankle-Brachial Index (ABI)
These tests detect peripheral arterial disease (PAD), which affects blood flow to the legs. ABI measures your blood pressure at the ankle and divides that measurement by the blood pressure level at your arm.
When normal, the arm and leg pressure should be the same or extremely close, for a ratio around 1. If the ABI ratio is less than 1, then there is likely to be artery disease present.
This test is usually performed with inflatable pressure cuffs on your leg as you recline. But your doctor might choose to perform the test while you are on a treadmill. This helps to detect early signs of PAD that is not present when relaxed.
Segmental Pressure Test
If there is a blockage somewhere in your leg, a segmental pressure test will help narrow down the location of the blockage.
This test involves a series of blood pressure cuffs on the high and low thigh, high calf, and ankle. For example, if the cuffs at your thigh show a pressure drop, the blockage could be in the femoral artery.
This test is also non-invasive and simple to perform.
Pulse Volume Recordings
Another diagnostic imaging tool, known as pulse volume recording, uses Doppler technology to measure pressure in your leg. Doppler is a type of sound wave that can bounce off red blood cells via an ultrasound wand.
This method combines both the pressure cuffs and the ultrasound to determine potential blockage.
Common Ultrasound Tests
Ultrasound, also known as sonography, uses sound waves to create images of objects. In diagnosing vascular disease, doctors use ultrasound in many locations on the body, such as:
- Carotid ultrasound – ultrasound in the arteries in the neck to identify blockages that can cause a stroke.
- Renal ultrasound – ultrasound in the arteries to the kidney.
- Abdominal ultrasound – ultrasound of the abdomen, which can identify blockage to the aorta and its branches.
- Mesenteric ultrasound – ultrasound of the arteries in and around the abdomen to check for blockages that cause pain or lack of blood flow to the intestines.
- Venous ultrasound – done on varicose veins.
Ultrasound tests involve the use of a gel that the technician applies to the skin. Using a wand with a flat head, the technician applies the wand over the gel. Sound waves will produce images on a screen. Potential blockages will appear in these images.
Ultrasound tests are usually very comfortable and done while reclining. The usual time frame for these tests is 30-90 minutes.
A more invasive form of ultrasound is a Transesophageal echocardiogram. The technician or doctor will insert the ultrasound tool into the esophagus to get images of the heart. It’s usually done under sedation.
These tests use x-ray and digital imaging to get pictures of arteries and organs to determine if a blockage is present. Common imaging tests include:
- Angiogram: This test involves an injection of iodine into the bloodstream, usually under sedation. The iodine in your blood will then show up on an x-ray so that any narrowing or blockage is easily seen.
- CTA (Computer Tomography Angiography). These tests allow your doctor to view your vascular disease in 3-D, which helps to assess the severity. Again, iodine dye is injected to give contrast and identify bulges in blood vessels.
- MRA (Magnetic Resonance Angiography) is the same as an MRI, in that both tests use a magnetic field to identify problems. An MRA will concentrate solely on the heart and heart conditions like plaque buildup.
Other Types of Vascular Tests
Vasculitis Test: Vasculitis is the inflammation of the blood vessels and is also known as angiitis. Routine blood tests, like those that measure C-reactive protein (CRP) or a complete blood count, can help diagnose this rare condition.
Graft Surveillance Tests: An arterial bypass graft is a treatment for severe blockage that uses your own vein for the graft. Graft surveillance tests need to be performed at regular intervals after a graft surgery to ensure the graft is holding up and functioning properly. This testing can be done with blood pressure measurements and ultrasound techniques.
Vein Mapping: this ultrasound test is used to determine which healthy blood vessels are good candidates for use as grafts in bypass operations.
Surveillance of Dialysis Access: Kidney patients who are on dialysis are at risk for stenosis or contracting of their access portal. This kind of stenosis can lead to blood clots. Routine ultrasound can prevent this by detecting early signs of constriction.
Vascular Study Tests Are Preventative Medicine
Given the frequency of vascular disease, it is wise to have your doctor order vascular study tests. This is very important if you have high blood pressure, high blood sugar, or unexplained pain.
Your doctor will start with noninvasive tests, and if warranted, prescribe various imaging tests. By looking for blockages, medications and other treatments can be used to slow the progress of the disease before permanent damage occurs.
Most of these tests occur in an outpatient setting, with minimal discomfort. Tests like this have proved to be excellent weapons in combatting vascular system problems.
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