Vascular Ultrasound of the Liver

Medically reviewed by Health Library. Date Last Reviewed: 19/05/2023

Vascular Ultrasound of the Liver

A vascular ultrasound of the liver is performed to help evaluate the liver and the network of blood vessels entering and exiting the liver.

Vascular Ultrasound of the Liver

What is an ultrasound?

Ultrasound (also known as sonography, ultrasonography or ultrasound scanning) is a diagnostic procedure in which high-frequency sound waves are transmitted through body tissues. The sound waves cannot be heard by the human ear. The sound waves, or echoes, that bounce back from the internal structures of the body are recorded and transformed into video or photographic images that can be viewed on a monitor.

The idea for ultrasound in humans came from sonar technology, which uses sound waves to detect underwater objects. Similarly, ultrasound imaging can reveal certain structures under our skin – specifically, soft tissue structures (such as the size, shape, and appearance of organs; muscles and tendons; and a developing fetus). An ultrasound can also detect blockages in the blood vessels (arteries and veins).

Ultrasound may be used with other diagnostic procedures or by itself.

What is a vascular ultrasound of the liver?

A vascular ultrasound of the liver is similar to traditional ultrasound except that the diagnostic test is used specifically to examine blood circulation around the liver. A vascular ultrasound (also called a duplex ultrasound), is actually a combination of a traditional ultrasound and a Doppler ultrasound. In a Doppler ultrasound, sound waves bounce off moving blood cells. A vascular ultrasound provides images of blood vessel walls and surrounding tissues as well as images of blood flow through the blood vessels.

When is a vascular ultrasound of the liver is needed?

A vascular ultrasound of the liver is performed to help evaluate the liver and its network of blood vessels (within the liver and entering and exiting the liver). Using vascular ultrasound can help physicians diagnose and review the outcome of treatments for various liver-related problems and diseases. These include:

For detecting nodules, lesions, blood vessel malformations, and non-cancerous and cancerous tumors in the liver and their growth

For the planning and follow-up of liver transplantation

For following up on the outcome of liver tumor treatments

For following up on the outcome of TIPS (transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt, a procedure performed in patients with cirrhosis of the liver)

For determining blockages or reduced blood flow in the arteries and veins in and around the liver and spleen, such as clots

Who performs the vascular ultrasound of the liver?

Your ultrasound test will be performed by registered, specially trained technologist.

How do I prepare for a vascular ultrasound of the liver?

You will be given instructions before the exam. You may be asked to not eat or drink anything 8 hours before the exam. However, you may still take your medicine with sips of water.

You should wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes for your exam. Leave valuables, such as jewelry and credit cards at home. You may be asked to wear a gown during the exam.

How is the vascular ultrasound of the liver performed?

You will lie face-up on a padded examining table. A warm, water-soluble gel will be applied to the skin over the area to be examined. The gel does not harm your skin or stain your clothes. A microphone-looking hand-held device, called a transducer, is gently applied against the skin. Sound waves are transmitted from the transducer, through the gel and skin, and into the body. (The gel prevents air pockets between the transducer and skin so the sound waves can better pass through the skin.) The transducer is moved to various locations and angles around the liver and held in place in certain areas during the exam. The sound waves that bounce back off the liver and its blood vessels are collected by the transducer and sent to a computer monitor that turns the sound waves into images.

How long does a vascular ultrasound of the liver take?

The ultrasound will take about 60 minutes to complete.

What can I expect during and after the vascular ultrasound of the liver?

A vascular ultrasound of the liver is a safe and painless procedure. Some patients may report some minor discomfort or pressure if the transducer is being pressed over areas of the liver that are tender.

After the exam is over, the gel will be wiped off your skin. The gel does not stain skin or clothing. Unless told otherwise, you should be able to return to your previous level of activity.

What are the risks of a vascular ultrasound of the liver?

There are no harmful side effects from ultrasound. Unlike X-rays, ultrasound does not use radiation.

Who reads the results of the vascular ultrasound of the liver and when do I get the results?

The images will be reviewed by a board-certified radiologist. A report of the radiologist’s findings will be forwarded to the physician who ordered the test. The doctor who ordered the ultrasound will discuss the results with you. The results of your ultrasound are usually available within 24 hours after your test, Monday through Friday.

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.