An ultrasound, also known as a sonogram, is a fast, painless imaging technique that produces images of the internal organs through the use of high-frequency sound waves. It is a noninvasive, simple procedure that can produce images of the soft tissues, which often don't show up well on X-rays. There is no ionizing radiation used during this procedure and no serious side effects. An ultrasound is especially useful for examining the heart in order to determine its size and shape, in addition to how well the different components of the heart and other cardiovascular structures are functioning.

An ultrasound of the heart, also known as an echocardiogram, is a painless procedure performed in your doctor’s office in less than an hour. You may be required to fast for eight hours before the exam in order for a special dye to be visible within the heart. The images of the heart are shown on a video monitor in real time for the doctor and patient to view during the exam.

There are several different types of cardiovascular ultrasound, used to diagnose different conditions. All procedures are minimally invasive and may be performed during a cardiac stress test.

Transthoracic Echocardiogram

The most common type of heart ultrasound test is a transthoracic echocardiogram. In this procedure, a special hand-held device known as a transducer is placed on the chest. It emits high frequency sound waves, relaying information to a computer in order to produce an ultrasound image. The results are fully analyzed by your doctor after the exam and are often used to diagnose high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, congenital heart defects, aneurysms or other heart conditions. There are no risks associated with an echocardiogram, and patients can return to their normal activities immediately after the exam.

Aortic Ultrasound

The aorta is the largest and arguably most important blood vessel in the body, as it pumps oxygenated blood throughout the body. Ultrasound imaging of the aorta is highly useful in detecting blockages, narrowing or aneurysms, which are bulging areas, within the aorta.

This procedure is often used to screen for and detect signs of abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA), a condition in which the walls of the abdominal aorta become weak and begin to expand outward. Ultrasound is a noninvasive, painless procedure that can help screen for this serious condition in patients over the age of 60 or those with a family history of AAA.

Carotid Doppler Ultrasound

A carotid Doppler ultrasound is a diagnostic procedure to assess blood flow within the carotid arteries in the neck. The carotid arteries supply oxygen-rich blood to the brain. This test allows the doctor to detect any narrowing of the arteries and also gauge how quickly blood flows through them to determine a patient's risk of stroke or other heart conditions.

The carotid Doppler ultrasound is most commonly performed on patients who have the following conditions:

  • Recently had a stroke
  • Have an abnormal sound in the carotid artery
  • May have blood clots in the carotid artery
  • Have damage in the walls of the carotid artery
  • Recently had carotid artery surgery
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • A family history of stroke or heart disease

During the ultrasound procedure, a transducer is moved over a portion of the neck to produce an image of each artery, which is displayed on a computer screen. The different colors that appear on the images determine the speed of the blood flow.

Noninvasive Vascular Laboratory

Vascular ultrasound is a safe noninvasive method used to aid in the detection of blockages in the carotid (neck), arms, abdomen and lower extremities. A qualified Technologist will perform your procedure. Most exams take 30-60 minutes to complete. The test results are available within 24 hours. If an abdominal (aorta/kidney) ultrasound is ordered, fasting (nothing by mouth, except water or prescribed medications) is required 12 hours prior to the scheduled appointment.

Noninvasive exams include:

  • Carotid Duplex
  • Venous Duplex – Upper or Lower
  • Arterial Doppler with Duplex Scan – Upper or Lower
  • Abdominal Duplex Scan – Renal or Aorta

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