For Patients - Commonly Asked Questions Before the Ultrasound
Patients regularly have questions about their ultrasound examination.
Why do I have to fast for my ultrasound examination?
The blood vessels your doctor has requested that we assess at Vascular HealthCare lie beneath the large intestine (bowel). Gas, a natural by-product of the digestive process, is normally found throughout the large intestine. Unfortunately, its presence prevents ultrasound penetration and makes adequate Doppler assessment of the blood flow difficult, and sometimes impossible. In order to gain clear images and flow recordings of your abdominal blood vessels, we ask you to follow a dietary preparation (variable depending on whether or not you have diabetes) which is specifically designed to minimise gas in the large intestine. Your cooperation in adhering to this preparation means the examination will be more comfortable for you and allows the most accurate results to be obtained for your diagnosis.
Why do I have to have my abdomen scanned when the pain I am getting is in my legs?
The blood supply to the legs begins in the aorta, the major blood vessel which descends from the heart and then divides to supply the abdominal organs and the lower limbs. Atherosclerotic disease (narrowings or blockages) in the aorta or its major branches in the abdomen can significantly impact the blood supply to the muscles in your legs. At Vascular HealthCare, we consider that a complete evaluation of these vessels is fundamental to a comprehensive assessment of your leg arteries in order to confirm or exclude arterial problems as a cause for your symptoms.
When do I get my results?
Your scan results are reviewed by the supervising vascular surgeon at Vascular HealthCare and should be back to your referring doctor within three working days. If your doctor has requested an ‘urgent’ scan, your results will be faxed through as soon as possible after the completion of your ultrasound examination, usually within an hour, and the sonographer will make every effort to contact your doctor personally to inform them of your results. If you have another appointment already booked with your doctor regarding your scan results, please notify the sonographer so that arrangements can be made to have the results back to your doctor in good time. If you are seeing one of the doctors at Hunter Vein Clinic after your scan, your results will be available to that doctor immediately.
What clothing should I wear when I come in for my scan?
None of the scans performed at Vascular HealthCare are ‘internal’ so you will not be required to remove your underpants. Depending on what blood vessels are being assessed, the following clothing is recommended:
Cerebrovascular (Neck arteries): A shirt or blouse that is loose around the neckline or that can be unbuttoned to expose the throat and clavicle. You may also be asked to remove jewellery from around the neck area.
Upper Limb/Arms (arteries or veins): Wear separates so that your shirt or blouse can be removed easily to expose your arms. If you need to remove your bra, you will be provided with a drape, blanket or disposable gown, however usually it is sufficient to simply lower your bra strap while the blood vessels around your shoulder are being checked.
Lower Limb/Legs (arteries or veins): Wear separates so that your trousers or skirt can be easily removed to expose your legs. Long skirts or dresses can be a nuisance, particularly when standing for the venous reflux examination. Boxer shorts are not recommended as they make accessing the groin area difficult. You will be provided with a drape or a disposable gown if necessary. Please do wear underpants.
Abdominal (arteries or veins): Wear comfortable clothing so that your abdomen can be easily exposed when you are lying on the examination couch. Tight or restrictive garments, such as step-ins, will need to be removed. If you require a gown, drape or blanket, this will be provided.
Can I ask questions during the scan?
At Vascular HealthCare, the sonographer will always give you the opportunity to ask any questions you have about the scan prior to commencing your examination. During your examination, the sonographer will be concentrating on getting the most accurate results, and may appear focused on this. However, if you are concerned about anything, or are experiencing any discomfort, it is important to let the sonographer know.
Remember, he or she will not be able to give you the results of your test as the scan findings need to be checked by the supervising vascular surgeon before being sent back to your doctor.
Can I ask for a male or female sonographer?
If you have specific concerns regarding the gender of the person performing your ultrasound examination, please make this known to the receptionist at Vascular HealthCare at the time of making your appointment and every effort will be made to accommodate your request.
How is ultrasound different to Xray?
Ultrasound refers to high frequency sound waves generated by the ultrasound system and these pass through soft tissue to create images of muscles, tendons, internal organs, and so on. Doppler ultrasound is used to assess blood flow. However, ultrasound cannot penetrate bone or air. There are no significant harmful side effects from the safe use of ultrasound and no protective garments are required for the sonographer or the patient. Xray, on the other hand, refers to electro-magnetic radiation which penetrates the tissues of the body, including bone. Radiation safety protocol requires the use of protective clothing for the radiographer and the patient.
Do I need to make an appointment?
Yes, you do need to make an appointment. The ultrasound examinations performed at Vascular Health Care take from 30 to 90 minutes to complete, and may need specific equipment, so booking in is essential. Many of the scans also require that you follow dietary and fasting instructions; these can be given to you when you make your appointment. If you have to fast, we make every effort to book your scan earlier in the day, so that you do not go hungry for too long!
How long will my ultrasound take?
Your scan at Vascular HealthCare will take anything from 30 minutes to an hour and a half, depending on which test your doctor has requested. When you make your appointment the receptionist will let you know approximately how long your scan will take.
Are there any harmful side effects associated with ultrasound?
There are no known harmful side effects from diagnostic ultrasound when it is used correctly by qualified personnel. All equipment at Vascular HealthCare is maintained to strict safety and performance standards, and all our sonographers are qualified or achieving qualifications through recognised training programs to ensure your absolute safety and diagnostic accuracy. You will not be required to wear any kind of protective garment, such as a lead apron.
Why do I need my stent checked?
Once a stent has been placed in your blood vessel to correct an aneurysm or a narrowing or blockage, it is most important that you subsequently return for your routine ‘surveillance’ program to make sure that the stent continues to allow the blood to pass normally through that section. Due to the nature of atherosclerotic disease, it is occasionally possible for stents to become narrowed or blocked again (re-stenosis). Your cooperation in an ongoing surveillance program at Vascular Health Care means that your vascular surgeon can easily keep an eye on your blood flow and make sure there is no sign of recurrent problems. Happily, modern stents are exceptionally resistant to re-stenosis.
Why does the test take so long?
Vascular ultrasound scans involve the detailed collection of blood flow information from many locations along the course of the blood vessels your doctor has asked us to check. While this may seem a time-consuming procedure, it is essential for the most accurate results. Our experienced vascular sonographers at Vascular HealthCare do not take ‘short cuts’ in order to finish your test as quickly as possible. They adhere to specific, Medicare-recognised protocols that ensure no abnormalities are missed so that your results are as comprehensive as possible. If you have time constraints or concerns, please mention these at the time of making your appointment.
What is the difference between an artery and a vein?
In simple terms, arteries carry blood away from the heart to supply the varied structures of the body with oxygen and nutrients. Arteries ‘pump’ blood through the body, thus creating the pulse you feel at your wrist. Veins, on the other hand, are the vessels that return the de-oxygenated blood to the lungs and heart; they ‘drain’ blood without the pumping action associated with arteries. The size of arteries and veins varies greatly, depending on their location. The sonographers at Vascular HealthCare are specialists in recognising both the difference between arteries and veins, and the large range of abnormalities that may be found when vascular disease is present.
What will happen to me during the examination?
Remember, ultrasound examinations are ‘non-invasive’, which means there are no needles or dyes used to obtain your results, and there are no harmful side effects. Once your clothing is loosened or removed, a gel is applied to your skin and a probe (transducer) is moved along your skin, over the blood vessels being examined. You may hear some unusual sounds from the Doppler during your examination but this is quite normal and there is no need to be alarmed. Please refer to our ‘Patient Information’ sections which explain the individual examinations performed at Vascular HealthCare in more detail.