People who visit a vein or vascular specialist for varicose veins may be encouraged to have an ultrasound done. This form of imaging is the gold standard in diagnostic care for varicose veins because, without special imaging, the doctor has no way to truly evaluate veins using observation. An ultrasound exam provides a comprehensive, very detailed map of the veins in the lower extremities. We don’t just see the veins, but we see their size, where they branch off, and where they are interconnected. Using ultrasound imaging, the specialist can evaluate how well the valves in the veins are working. The imaging, because it shows real-time motion, can identify whether or not there is reflux happening. Venous reflux is a major contributor to varicose veins. It involves the backup of blood where a valve has stopped functioning properly. Ultrasound can also show if a vein if blocked or if a blood clot has developed.
How Does Ultrasound Work?
Ultrasound imaging is a non-invasive test and is painless, safe, and efficient. Ultrasound creates images via the use of high-frequency sound waves. These sound waves are not heard during the exam. They travel through the body and meet structures in the target area. In this case, ultrasound waves meet the veins. This meeting causes a change in the frequency of the sound waves, resulting in an image that is displayed on a computer screen. Vein specialists often rely on ultrasound to accurately diagnose venous insufficiency. People with spider veins, itching, aching, or swelling of the ankles or legs, discoloration of the skin on the leg or ankle, or slight bulging of varicose veins tend to be excellent candidates for venous ultrasound.
What Can I Expect at My Leg Ultrasound?
Venous ultrasounds on the legs usually take 30 to 45 minutes. To observe the veins, the doctor or technician applies a water-soluble gel on the skin of the target area. They then place a handheld device against the skin and move it across the area being studied. The device emits sound waves, which are directed inward by the gel. The ultrasound exam may include imaging both when you are standing and when you are lying down. This improves image quality in three ways. The change in position gives the best access to all veins in the target area. It shows changes in blood flow through different positions, and it evaluates the efficacy of the calf muscle pump, an integral aspect of good blood flow out of the legs. During a venous ultrasound, the technician may also apply compression to the leg to observe how blood flow changes as a result.
Preparing for Lower Extremity Ultrasound
There are a few things that patients can do to make their lower extremity ultrasound comfortable and efficient. These include:
- Drink plenty of water before the appointment. Hydration maximizes peak patterns and rates of blood flow for the exam.
- Wear loose-fitting clothing. This will make it easier to move onto and off of the table.
- Do not apply lotion or other products to the legs on the day of the exam. This may interfere with the ultrasound gel.
How Does Ultrasound Help Plan Vein Treatment?
Ultrasound imaging is an essential aspect of vein treatment. The images show the doctor where the venous reflux is happening, the vein or veins that are involved, and their precise location. Imaging shows the doctor if the problem is related to venous reflux or a blood clot, each of which requires a unique course of treatment. Using the data obtained through ultrasound, the doctor can confidently make treatment recommendations. At Suffolk Vascular & Vein, we perform the following vein treatments:
- Endovenous radiofrequency ablation
- Endovenous laser ablation
- Ambulatory phlebectomy
Having a venous ultrasound does not obligate you to receive the treatment that is recommended. What this screening does is help you understand exactly what is happening to cause uncomfortable symptoms and it helps your doctor provide you with the most accurate information regarding your condition and how it may be treated. Contact us to schedule a visit at one of our three New York locations.