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Abstract

Protocol

Physical Examinations IV

Using Point of Care Ultrasound to Augment Acquisition of Physical Exam Skills: Veins and Arteries

Published: April 30th, 2023

1Yale School of Medicine

Vascular diseases make up most cases of emergency hospitalization and carry a high mortality risk. Point-of-care ultrasound or POCUS enables accurate diagnosis of these diseases and shortens the time between detection of the cause and selection of appropriate treatment strategies, thus, reducing the patient mortality rate. POCUS offers a safe, low-cost, and less invasive bedside tool for examining arteries and veins, besides its many other applications.

For learners, the anatomical difference between arteries and veins can also be better understood with the help of POCUS. Arteries are thicker walled and pulsatile; veins are thinner walled, may have valves, and collapse when compressed.

Arteries may be difficult to palpate if they are deeper, have reduced blood flow, or a practitioner does not know the anatomic landmarks or is inexperienced. During an examination, while palpation enables an understanding of the intensity, symmetry, and rhythm of blood flow, POCUS can provide exact information on the underlying anatomy and location of the blood vessels. For example, the dorsalis pedis is a major artery that runs over the dorsal foot. It can become impalpable if the flow is obstructed. In such a condition, POCUS can help to detect the absence of blood flow. 

Consider the internal jugular vein or IJV, which drains venous blood from the brain and superficial veins of the face and finally delivers the blood to the right atrium of the heart. Visualization of the internal jugular vein under ultrasound can improve inspection for jugular venous distension.

Among the arteries, the aorta is the main artery that carries oxygenated blood from the heart and branches off to deliver blood to the rest of the body. The portion of the aorta that passes through the abdomen, from the diaphragm to the umbilical area, is known as the abdominal aorta. The abdominal aorta is examined using POCUS to diagnose life-threatening conditions such as abdominal aortic aneurysm— a swelling in the aorta, or aortic dissection— a tear in the artery. 

The conceptual knowledge of the vascular system combined with the technical skills of using palpation and ultrasound can help make life-saving diagnoses during physical examination.

In this video, we will demonstrate how to use POCUS to facilitate learning the examination of veins and arteries.

1. Examination of Arteries: The Dorsalis Pedis Pulse

  1. Review the examination of peripheral arteries here: JoVE Video 10122: Peripheral Vascular Exam.
  2. Select the linear probe and the vascular preset on the ultrasound machine.
  3. Use the ultrasound to examine the artery of interest in transverse view and identify surrounding structures that act as landmarks for the physical exam. These may include tendons, bony landmarks, or oth.......

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