Diagnosing Vascular Malformations in the Torso & Limbs

NYU Langone vascular specialists are experts at identifying vascular malformations of the abdomen, pelvis, arms, and legs. They use a variety of sophisticated diagnostic tests to determine how advanced a malformation is and whether treatment is required to halt symptoms and prevent complications. 

An internal vascular malformation may cause pain from nerve compression, internal bleeding, or tissue death when it grows into a nearby organ. Constipation may result if a malformation is near the bowel; pelvic pressure if it is in the pelvis; and limb swelling if it is in the arms or legs. Some vascular malformations cause pain in the abdomen, back, or chest.

These symptoms may indicate that a vascular malformation requires treatment. However, some are best left alone, because treatment can increase the risk of bleeding and injury to nearby organs. NYU Langone doctors may recommend watchful waiting, which involves regular monitoring to see if a vascular malformation changes, grows, or causes additional problems. 

Imaging Tests 

After conducting a thorough physical exam and taking your medical history, your NYU Langone doctor may order diagnostic imaging tests to determine the presence and location of a vascular malformation inside the body.

Duplex Ultrasound

Duplex ultrasound is an imaging test that provides information about the structure of the blood vessels and the blood flow within them. It combines two imaging techniques: conventional ultrasound, which uses sound waves to create a two-dimensional moving image of the blood vessels, and Doppler flow ultrasound, which uses sound waves to detect blood flow.

Our doctors use duplex ultrasound to evaluate the abdomen, pelvis, arms, and legs for evidence of a vascular malformation. During the ultrasound, the doctor places a handheld instrument called a transducer against your skin. The transducer emits sound waves that bounce off of structures in the body, producing images of blood vessels on a monitor. 

The exam can take 30 to 60 minutes and is painless. Afterward, you can return to your regular activities immediately.

Magnetic Resonance Angiogram

A magnetic resonance angiogram, or MRA, is a study of the blood vessels using MRI technology. It is an important tool for diagnosing vascular malformations. MRI uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create detailed two- and three-dimensional pictures of soft structures in the body. 

The test takes 40 to 90 minutes. Before the test begins, a small IV needle is inserted into your hand or arm. The doctor injects contrast dye into a vein, which allows the blood vessels and arteries to be seen clearly on the magnetic image. It doesn’t hurt, but you may feel a warm sensation throughout your body from the liquid.

CT Scans

A CT scan uses X-ray technology to take multiple views of the body. Our doctors may use a CT scan to obtain images of a vascular malformation in the pelvic area. CT may also be used if you have a pacemaker, which can be affected by the magnet in the MRA machine. 

Just before the scan begins, the doctor may give you an intravenous (IV) injection of a contrast dye. This liquid travels through the blood vessels and highlights any malformations on the scan.

The test typically takes 10 to 15 minutes. It is painless, but you may feel a warm sensation throughout your body from the contrast material.

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