Iowa Specialty Hospital

Radiology & Imaging: Cardiovascular Ultrasound

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Cardiovascular ultrasound refers to the examination of the heart and/or arteries and veins in the body using high-frequency sound waves.


An echocardiogram (echo), an ultrasound of the heart, is a test that uses high frequency sound waves, called ultrasound, to examine and take pictures of your heart while it is beating. It is a safe and painless procedure that helps doctors diagnose a variety of heart problems. During most echocardiographic procedures, Doppler is performed to determine the direction and velocity of blood flow within your heart.

Ultrasound produces real-time images of soft tissue and can capture movement of internal organs. Therefore, it is used to visualize and diagnose problems of the heart. An echocardiogram may be performed for further evaluation of signs or symptoms that may suggest atherosclerosis, cardiomyopathy, congenital heart disease, congestive heart failure, aneurysm, valvular heart disease, cardiac tumor, or pericarditis. An echocardiogram may be performed to assess the heart’s function and structures. There may be other reasons for your physician to recommend an echocardiogram.

The length of the examination is approximately an hour. It is not unusual for a test to run longer if the structures of your heart are difficult to visualize because of chest shape or lung interference. In some cases, a non-iodinated contrast (administered through an IV that will be started by a nurse) may need to be used to better visualize the cardiac chambers.

Vascular Ultrasound

The term vascular ultrasound refers to a noninvasive diagnostic procedure used to examine the internal blood vessels of the body. High-frequency sound waves and Doppler ultrasound are used to construct an image that can be evaluated by a radiologist.

Parts of the body involved in vascular imaging may include veins of the arms and legs, arteries of the arms and legs, carotid arteries (in the neck), aorta and its arterial branches, renal arteries (kidneys), and hepatic arteries and veins (liver).

Vascular ultrasound may be performed for further evaluation of signs or symptoms that may suggest DVT (a blood clot in the deep veins of the arms or legs), varicose veins, atherosclerosis, narrowing of the carotid artery in the neck, as well as to assess major abdominal vessels and their branches for atherosclerosis or clot or arterial blockages from plaque. There may be other reasons for your physician to recommend a vascular ultrasound.

A typical scan takes between 30 and 60 minutes, depending on the area being studied and how complex the scan is.

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