Non-invasive vascular testing utilizes various types of technology to evaluate the health of blood vessels at rest and sometimes with exercise. These procedures are generally painless and can help to determine if blood vessel disease is present, the location, and severity.

There are many types of non-invasive vascular tests:

A carotid ultrasound measures arterial blood flow through the carotid arteries to the brain. An abdominal aortic ultrasound examines the size of the aorta, the major blood vessel that carries blood away from the heart to the body (aorta).

A venous ultrasound examines the circulation in veins of the arms and legs, most commonly looking for blood clots. A lower extremity arterial evaluation (an ankle brachial testing or pulse volume recording test) examines the arterial blood flow to the lower part of the body and legs. This may be ordered when pain in the legs is produced by activity and relieved by rest.

A renal artery ultrasound measures the flow of blood through the renal arteries to the kidneys. This study may be ordered for a patients with severe or uncontrolled hypertension who is already taking multiple blood pressure medications.

Once a test is completed, the results are sent to a physician for review. Further testing or treatment may follow.

What to expect

Depending on the type of test ordered, a person will be asked to lie or sit down on an examination table. A small amount of gel is applied to the skin on the area of the body being studied. A technician will then pass a wand (transducer) over the gel-covered area. There may be minimal pressure or discomfort during the study as the ultrasound wand presses against the skin. The technician will take a number of digital images of the blood vessels using a special type of ultrasound machine. Once the study is complete, the images are sent to a physician for review.