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Vascular Testing Is Patient Friendly and Potentially Life-Saving

June 19, 2012

Lab's Testing Helps Identify Arterial Narrowing and Blockages

If your doctor suspects you might be at risk for an acute medical issue, it's critical to identify the problem quickly. Take deep vein thrombosis (DVT), for instance, a condition that occurs when a blood clot forms in your vein, typically in the calf region. If left undiagnosed, the clot can break loose, travel through the bloodstream, and lodge in the lungs where it impedes blood flow.

If your doctor suspects DVT, he or she will typically send you for testing at a vascular lab like the one at Washington Township Medical Foundation (WTMF), according to Richard Hudson, a registered vascular technologist (RVT) who is technical director of WTMF's facility.

Rapid Diagnosis

"A typical situation for a patient to be referred to our laboratory - for say possible DVT - might be that the referring physician will call the laboratory to set up the study as soon as possible," explains Hudson. "We always allow open time slots each day for just such situations. The patient is sent to our lab immediately. After checking in at the front desk, the patient is escorted into the exam room where a history is taken and the symptomatic leg is examined and measured for swelling by the technician."

At this point, he says, the patient is asked to describe what caused them to decide to see their doctor in the first place - such as a swollen or painful leg - and the test is then performed.

"If the test is positive, or upon request, the referring physician is notified by telephone immediately following the completion of the study," Hudson says. "I have used DVT testing as an example, but we approach all patients in the same manner depending on the specific situation or need."

Serious Conditions Require Serious Attention

The lab also diagnoses patients with symptoms of:

  • Stroke (also known as a "brain attack")
  • Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA), or "mini" stroke, which is a sign of impending full-scale stroke
  • Edema (abnormal build-up of fluid), or pain of extremities
  • Aneurysm, which is an abnormal widening in a section of an artery due to weakness in the wall of the blood vessel
  • Arteriosclerosis and/or Atherosclerosis (hardening of the artery walls and/or buildup of fats in and on the artery walls, which can restrict blood flow)
  • Peripheral artery disease (narrowing of the arteries in the limbs)
  • Claudication, or cramping in the lower leg caused by blocked arteries
  • Vasospasm, a condition that occurs when blood vessels spasm resulting in constriction, which can decrease blood supply and cause tissue death

Hudson explains that most of the lab's patients are age 40 and older when it comes to arterial blockage. However, he calls DVT "an equal opportunity disease" without bias to age.

"In general, many of our patients have elevated LDL ("bad" cholesterol) levels, diabetes, heart disease, or they are heavy smokers," he says. "Some others are substance abusers, which has contributed to poor general health and vascular disease."

Painless and Effective

Despite the serious nature of the conditions that the lab diagnoses, Hudson says most of the vascular testing tools that the lab employs are painless and convenient for patients.

"In general, ultrasound vascular testing is patient friendly, as it is noninvasive, and it can be performed quickly. It is also cost effective when compared to computed tomography (CT) scanning or magnetic resonance angiogram (MRA)," he explains. "However, vascular testing does have its limitations, as it is technically sensitive and should be performed by experienced technologists."

Hudson says that while CT, MRA, and other imaging procedures will usually offer more detailed information for interpretation, vascular ultrasound tends to be the procedure of choice for referring physicians in order to screen for vascular disease or to rule out vascular obstruction quickly and effectively.

Complete Report

The lab has a variety of equipment used in the diagnosis of vascular diseases, including ultrasound scanners, segmental pressures, and treadmills for stress testing that help in collecting information to make a final diagnosis of each patient's vascular condition.

"In our report, we always include the findings that we have acquired with those tools," Hudson says. "Based on the information we have received we conclude our report with the impression of those findings, and the referring health care provider receives that report from us."

If needed, patients may undergo follow-up vascular testing to assess progress after initial testing, which allows the health care team to monitor treatment and adjust as necessary.

Necessary Follow-up

"Atherosclerosis disease can advance in stages quickly, or it may progress slowly if the patient is treated properly after the initial diagnosis," he says. "Ultrasound scanning or segmental pressures can help us to determine the severity of the disease at designated intervals in time. Or in the case of severe DVT, we may follow up with patients to determine if anticoagulation therapy has aided in re-canalization of the venous blood flow."

Hudson points out that patients are usually referred to the lab by a physician, such as a primary care physician, cardiologist, orthopedist, obstetrician/gynecologist, neurologist, or surgeon, among other specialists.

The vascular lab at WTMF has been actively accepting patients and performing vascular testing since the beginning of 2010, and Hudson has been performing these same tests in Fremont since 1981. Later this year, WTMF's lab will become officially accredited with the Intersocietal Accreditation Commission (IAC) under the medical direction of Dr. Gabriel Herscu, M.D.

Your health care, your way

For more information about Washington Township Medical Foundation, its services, and the more than 60 board-certified physicians with expertise in a broad range of medical specialties - from neurosurgery to pediatrics - visit www.mywtmf.com.

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