Vascular Imaging

Vascular imaging is used to evaluate blood vessels – with the exception of the coronary arteries, which are assessed with a CT scan – and help diagnose conditions associated with abnormal blood flow. Technologies that are used to generate images of the blood vessels include: vascular ultrasound, computed tomography (CT), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) offers one of the few multidisciplinary cardiovascular imaging programs in the country that includes cardiologists, radiologists, and other imaging experts. The BWH Cardiovascular Imaging Program combines the treatment, education, and research expertise of multiple disciplines – cardiology, radiology, nuclear medicine, molecular biology, medical physics, and chemistry – and incorporates the use of all available imaging types, including echocardiography, cardiac CT, cardiac MRI, nuclear cardiology, PET/CT, CT/MRI, and ultrasound.

Our patients with heart and vascular conditions have access to top specialists throughout the fields of cardiovascular medicine, cardiac surgery, cardiac imaging, vascular surgery, and cardiac anesthesia. These physicians practice at the BWH Heart & Vascular Center, consistently ranked as one of the top 10 “Cardiology & Heart Surgery” providers in U.S. News and World Report's annual “America's Best Hospitals” survey.

Vascular Imaging Topics

Why Have Vascular Imaging?

Vascular imaging may be used to help diagnose a variety of conditions that impact blood flow, including atherosclerosis, aneurysm, inflammatory conditions, varicose veins, or blood clots.

Vascular Imaging Procedures

The type of vascular imaging procedure used depends upon the suspected condition. Each approach is optimized to evaluate a particular condition or type of blood vessel.


  • Carotid duplex ultrasound is used to evaluate the neck's carotid arteries, which supply blood to the brain. Gel will be applied to the skin of the neck, and a transducer will be placed on the gel-covered areas to obtain images and evaluate and listen to the blood flow in the arteries.
  • Venous duplex ultrasound can be used to evaluate the veins that carry blood to the heart from the legs or arms. Gel will be applied to the skin of the legs or arms, and a transducer will be placed on the gel covered areas to obtain images and evaluate flow it the veins. For this test, your physician will be notified of the results before you leave the hospital.
  • Arterial duplex ultrasound is used to evaluate the arteries that feed the arms and legs with blood. Gel will be applied to the skin of the legs or arms, and a transducer will be placed on the gel-covered areas to obtain images and listen to the blood flow in the arms or legs.


  • MRI/CT of the aorta The aorta is the main artery that leaves the heart and supplies the body with blood. The best way to evaluate the aorta is with MRI or CT.
  • Peripheral MRI/CT angiography MRI or CT produces high-quality pictures of the blood vessels in the arms and legs to determine whether they have disease that requires treatment. Arterial disease that extends into the arms and legs can have serious consequences. In some groups, like patients with diabetes, the problem is more common.
  • MRI/CT angiography of the renal arteriesThis technique screens patients with suspected disease in the renal arteries. The disease typically manifests itself through high blood pressure, also known as hypertension.
  • MRI/CT angiography of the mesenteric arteries MRI and CT are considered to be the best methods for evaluating these abdominal blood vessels noninvasively. Some causes of abdominal pain are related to the mesenteric arteries.
  • Imaging of the veins for venous thrombosis Deep venous thrombosis, or DVT, is a blood-clotting disease. Clots in the arms and legs can usually be detected with ultrasound. However, clots in other places require MRI and CT for further evaluation.
  • Vascular thoracic outlet syndrome – Thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) is a condition that causes numbness and pain in the arms and hands. This can be caused by compression of the nerves and/or blood vessels that supply the arms. MRI is the best test to determine whether blood vessels are a cause of this condition.
  • Surgical planning Evaluating blood vessels with CT or MRI is often a component of planning surgical procedures, including valve repair, kidney transplantation, breast reconstruction, and face and hand transplantation.
What You Should Expect

The Heart & Vascular Center is located in the Shapiro Cardiovascular Center, across the street from BWH's main 75 Francis Street entrance. The Heart & Vascular Center brings together the full range of cardiovascular services in one location, fostering seamless and coordinated care for all patients.

Prior to your imaging procedure, you will check in at the Vascular Imaging Lab (for vascular ultrasound) or at the Cardiovascular Imaging Center (for vascular MRI or CT) in the Shapiro Cardiovascular Center. During your procedure, family and friends can wait in the Shapiro Family Center.

Multidisciplinary Care

In addition to our cardiovascular imaging experts, patients also benefit from the teamwork of cardiologists, interventional cardiologists, cardiac surgeons, cardiac electrophysiologists, and anesthesiologists, all experts in cardiovascular disorders. These specialists work alongside nurses, physician assistants, physical therapists, dietitians, and social workers to achieve better outcomes for patients.


Learn about the Watkins Cardiovascular Clinic in the Shapiro Cardiovascular Center.

Visit the Kessler Health Education Library in the Bretholtz Center for Patients and Families to access computers and knowledgeable staff.

Access a complete directory of patient and family services.

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