(Carotid, Arm, and Leg Arterial and Venous Studies, Carotid Ultrasound, Venous Doppler
Studies, Arterial Doppler Studies, Pulse Volume Recordings, PVRS)
What are vascular studies?
Vascular studies are tests that check the blood flow in your arteries and veins. These
tests are noninvasive. This means they don’t use any needles.
Vascular studies use high-frequency sound waves (ultrasound) to measure the amount
of blood flow in your blood vessels. A small handheld probe (transducer) is pressed
against your skin. The sound waves move through your skin and other body tissues to
the blood vessels. The sound waves echo off of the blood cells. These echoes are then
sent to a computer and seen on a screen as images or video.
Vascular studies may use one of these special types of ultrasound technology:
Doppler ultrasound. This allows a healthcare provider to see blood flow through arteries and veins.
The amount of blood pumped with each heartbeat is a sign of how large a vessel’s
opening is. A Doppler ultrasound can also find abnormal blood flow in a vessel,
which may mean there is a blockage.
Color Doppler. This is an enhanced form of Doppler ultrasound. It uses different colors to
show the direction of blood flow.
Why might I need a vascular study?
A vascular study may be done to:
Check signs and symptoms that may mean you have decreased blood flow in arteries
or veins in your neck, legs, or arms
Assess procedures you have had done before to restore blood flow to an area
Assess a vascular dialysis device (such as an A-V fistula in the arm)
There may be other reasons for your doctor to recommend a vascular study.
Health problems that may cause decreased blood flow in arteries or veins include:
Atherosclerosis. A slow clogging of the arteries over many years by fatty materials (plaque) and
other substances in the blood stream.
Aneurysm. An enlargement (dilation) of part of the heart muscle, or of the body’s
main artery (the aorta). This may cause tissue weakness at the aneurysm site.
Thrombus or embolus. A blood clot that forms in a blood vessel is a thrombus. An embolus is a small
mass of material that moves through blood vessels to another part of the
body, but gets stuck in a vessel.
Inflammatory conditions. Swelling (inflammation) in a blood vessel may occur because of an injury or an
irritating medicine that gets into the vessel. It can also be caused by infection
or an autoimmune disorder.
Varicose veins. Large, bulging veins in the leg. They occur when valves in the leg veins don’t
work well, allowing blood to collect in the lower leg.
Symptoms that may occur when blood flow decreases to your legs include:
Leg pain or weakness during exertion (claudication)
Soreness, tenderness, redness, or warmth in the leg
Pale and cool skin, may even be a grayish or blue color
Numbness or tingling
Foot pain that occurs when sitting or lying down, and is relieved by standing
If your provider thinks you may have decreased blood flow in your arms, legs, or neck,
then vascular studies may be done.
Types of vascular studies
There are different types of vascular studies. The tests that you have will depend
on your symptoms and what your provider thinks your vascular problem may be. Types
of vascular studies include:
Pulse volume recording (PVR) study. This is done to assess blood flow in your arms or legs. Blood pressure cuffs are
inflated on your arm or leg, and the blood pressure there is measured using the Doppler
Carotid duplex scan. This type of Doppler exam checks the carotid arteries in your neck. It gives a 2D
(2-dimensional) image of the arteries. This can show the structure of the arteries,
the blocked area, and how well blood is flowing.
Carotid artery duplex scan. This type of vascular ultrasound can check for blockages or narrowing (stenosis)
of the carotid arteries in your neck. It can also check the branches of the carotid
Your healthcare provider may order other related tests or procedures, depending on
your health problem.
What are the risks of a vascular study?
Vascular studies are safe and painless. They don’t use radiation. And you will likely
not feel any discomfort when the ultrasound probe is placed on your skin.
Some people may find it uncomfortable to have to lie still on the exam table for the
You may have other risks depending on your specific health problem. Be sure to discuss
any concerns with your provider before the test.
Certain factors or conditions may interfere with a vascular study. These include:
Smoking for at least an hour before the test, as smoking causes blood vessels
to tighten (constrict)
Irregular heart rhythms (cardiac dysrhythmias or arrhythmias)
How do I get ready for a vascular study?
Generally, you don’t need to prepare for a vascular study.
Your doctor may give you specific instructions about smoking and having caffeine.
You may be asked to not smoke for at least 2 hours before the test. This
is because smoking makes blood vessels tighten (constrict). You may also be asked
to not have caffeine in any form for about 2 hours before to the test.
What happens during a vascular study?
A vascular study may be done on an outpatient basis, which means you go home the same
day. Or it may be done as part of a hospital stay. Procedures may vary depending on
your condition and your provider’s practices.
Generally, a vascular study follows this process:
You will be asked to remove any jewelry or other objects that may interfere with
the procedure. You may wear your glasses, dentures, or hearing aid if you use
any of these.
If you are asked to remove clothing, you will be given a gown to wear.
You will lie on an exam table or bed.
A clear gel will be placed on your skin at locations where the pulse is expected
to be heard.
The Doppler probe will be pressed against your skin and moved around over the
area of the artery or vein being studied.
When blood flow is detected, you will hear a "whoosh, whoosh" sound. The probe
will be moved around to compare blood flow in different areas of the artery or
For arterial studies of the legs, blood pressure cuffs will be used. They are
put on 3 different places on your leg: your thigh, calf, and ankle. This is done
to compare the blood pressure in these areas. The cuff around your thigh will
be inflated first. The blood pressure is checked by putting the Doppler probe
just below the cuff.
The cuff around your calf will be inflated, and the blood pressure checked.
The cuff around your ankle will be inflated, and the blood pressure checked.
Blood pressure is then taken in the arm that’s on the same side as the leg that
was just studied. This is used to find out how much the blood flow is blocked
in your legs.
When the procedure is over, the gel will be removed from your skin.
What happens after a vascular study?
You may go back to your normal diet and activities unless your provider advises you
Generally, there is no special type of care following a vascular study. Your healthcare
provider may give you other instructions, depending on your situation.
Before you agree to a test or procedure, make sure you know:
The name of the test or procedure
The reason you are having the test or procedure
What results to expect and what they mean
The risks and benefits of the test or procedure
What the possible side effects or complications are
When and where you are to have the test or procedure
Who will do the test or procedure and what that person’s qualifications are
What would happen if you did not have the test or procedure
Any alternative tests or procedures to think about
When and how will you get the results
Who to call after the test or procedure if you have questions or problems
How much you will have to pay for the test or procedure