People outside the health care industry tend to think of ultrasound technology as an obstetrics-oriented profession. While it's true that sonography is often used to monitor fetal development, it's a versatile imaging technology with many other uses. Skilled sonographers can specialize in a number of areas, such as vascular sonography. Vascular sonographers help doctors diagnose diseases and conditions of the veins and arteries that make up the body's circulatory system.
Ultrasound technology works by emitting rapid pulses of very high-frequency sound waves into the body through a wand-like instrument called a transducer. Dense tissues deflect sound waves more efficiently than softer tissues, so the ultrasound machine can calculate an image of tissues inside the body by analyzing how they deflected the sound waves. A second type of ultrasound testing relies on the Doppler effect, which describes changes in sound related to moving objects. Doppler ultrasound can measure moving liquids including blood, and is widely used by vascular sonographers.
Vascular sonographers help doctors diagnose and monitor a variety of diseases and conditions of the circulatory system. Most tests begin with the sonographer applying a small amount of water-based gel to the patient's skin and then positioning the transducer over the area to be imaged. Sonographers must understand human anatomy and medical terminology well enough to create the images ordered by the doctor, which often requires skilled placement of the transducer. Vascular sonographers might use traditional imaging to locate a blockage in a blood vessel or a weakened area where the blood vessel bulges dangerously.
One key use of vascular ultrasound is measuring the flow of blood through veins, arteries or internal organs of the body. Changes in the sound pulses emitted by the transducer provide information about the volume, flow rate and direction of the blood's circulation, depending which machine is used. For example, color Doppler ultrasounds show the direction and speed of blood flow. Spectral Doppler takes a different approach, converting the data into a graph that shows how fast the blood is moving. Power Doppler is a more sensitive technique that can provide blood-flow rates for difficult vessels, such as those inside organs, but it can't show the direction of the blood flow.
Training and Certification
Vascular sonographers begin as general ultrasound technologists, usually after a two-year associate degree or a comparable military training program. Technologists with an interest in vascular work can opt for a specialized training program in the field or can learn on the job if they work in a facility that performs a lot of vascular diagnosis. Vascular sonographers work with all the blood vessels in the body, except those directly connected to the heart. Cardiac sonographers, or echocardiographers, deal with those. Sonographers who already hold a general certification through the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists or American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers can test for specialized certification as a vascular sonographer.
- Radiology.org: Vascular Ultrasound -- Vascular
- Jackson Community College: Vascular Sonography
- Georgia State University: Doppler Effect
- Radiology Info: Doppler Ultrasound
- American Registry of Radiologic Technologists: Vascular Sonographer
- American Registery for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers: Vascular Technology Outline
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