Three reasons to have a vascular screening

3 reasons to have a vascular screeningMeet Ashley Marcolin, registered vascular technologist at TMC and one of six RVTs that perform vascular screening exams at TMC. Ashley is the newest addition to the team, but manager Sarah Yeager reports Ashley reflects the kindness, compassion and empathy typical of the whole team.

“When people come in for a vascular exam they’re often very nervous. Whether they’re in the hospital for a vascular-related concern or a vascular wellness screening, I want them to know that they can relax, this is a very non-invasive test. We use no radiation, no dyes, no needles, and it takes just 30 minutes.” Ashley said. “This really is a very simple way to catch serious conditions early before they become life-threatening. The screening can save a life, and it takes very little time.”

While Ashley is a new member of the team, she has a lot of experience with performing exams of this kind. In her training, she had to complete 960 clinical hours using the techniques she now uses every day. We calculated how many exams she has performed since she started at TMC, where she also completed her clinical training. It runs into the thousands. “You know when you come to TMC that your technologist is a registered vascular technologist and has undergone a two-year intensive or four-year course before they can even take the certification exams,” Sarah explained.

What is involved in a vascular wellness screening?

We do three separate tests that together take about 30 minutes. You need to fast for four hours beforehand and wear loose-fitting clothing that allows easy access to the abdomen, neck, legs and arms. You do not need a doctor’s referral to schedule an appointment, but we will need the name of your primary care physician to send the results.

Ankle-Brachial Index

We use ultrasound scans along with blood pressure cuffs on the ankles and arms to screen for blockages or signs of disease in the arteries of the limbs. For this exam, you need to take your shoes and socks off. This is a screening for peripheral artery disease. PAD is a very common condition, especially in people over the age of 50. PAD can cause chronic leg pain when you’re walking or performing other exercises.

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Screening

This screening uses ultrasound scans looking for a ballooning of the wall of the abdominal aorta. If this ballooning or aneurysm ruptures it can be fatal. For this screening, you lie on your back while an RVT places the ultrasound transducer on several areas of your abdomen. The transducer has a bit of warm gel on the end. The gel helps us get clearer pictures and will not hurt your skin. You may feel slight pressure from the transducer as it moves along your body.

Carotid Artery Duplex Evaluation

Using an instrument called a transducer, the RVT scans the carotid artery in your neck to check the flow of blood, which informs us of plaque and blockages that put you at risk for an ischemic stroke.

Should you get a vascular screening?

Sarah and Ashley suggest that everyone over the age of 50 with any of the below listed risk factors get a vascular screening, and that any additional testing or screenings should be repeated at your physician’s direction.

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You may also be at increased risk of arterial vascular disease if you have one of the following:

  • Have a family history of abdominal aortic aneurysm
  • Smoke or have a history of smoking
  • Have diabetes
  • Have high cholesterol and/or high blood pressure
  • Have coronary artery disease

When will I get the results?

Our exams are read in house by a vascular surgeon and the results sent to you within 3-5 days.

Three reasons to have a vascular screening:

  1. It’s quick, easy and painless
  2. It’s affordable
  3. It can help prevent stroke and detect abdominal aortic aneurysm and peripheral artery disease

Call (520) 348-2028 to schedule your vascular screening.

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February Internal Vascular Series: Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms

Last month, readers may have read the story about Barbara Unger, a Tucson woman who narrowly escaped a life-threatening situation due to a serendipitous screening.

Unger was diagnosed with an abdominal aortic aneurysm, also known as an AAA to vascular surgeons and their patients.  AAA’s account for nearly 15,000 deaths each year, and they are the 13th leading cause of death in the United States. 

In an AAA, the wall of the aorta, the main artery that carries blood from the heart, permanently balloons out in a patient’s abdomen due to the pressure of blood passing through.  If it ruptures, the results can be catastrophic.

Who’s at risk? 

Dr. Luis Leon,Agave Surgical

Dr. Luis Leon,
Agave Surgical

“The condition typically affects Caucasian men who have smoked, and have high blood pressure.  Women, African Americans and diabetics tend to have a lower risk, but AAA’s tend to rupture more often in women than men, perhaps because of the smaller size of a woman’s arteries,” said Dr. Luis Leon of Agave Surgical. 

Repairing AAA’s through open surgery was developed in the 1950s, but required at least a week-long hospital stay.  The minimally-invasive technique that has since been developed requires surgeons to make just a small incision in the patient’s groin. 

“With this approach, the patient can go home the next day. Overall, there is less blood loss, and complications are dramatically reduced,” explained Dr. Leon.

There are ongoing advancements in the vascular field, and a renewed emphasis on screening since AAA’s often don’t present any symptoms.  “Most people come into the hospital with acute back pain.  Unfortunately at that point the aneurysm has ruptured,” Dr. Leon said. 

Current guidelines advise men who are between 35 and 65 years old and have a history of smoking to get an ultrasound of their belly.  “It’s painless, it’s inexpensive, and it takes five minutes.  These people need to get their aortas checked,” stressed Dr. Leon.  “If an aneurysm measures between three and five centimeters, the patient should be checked every six months to a year in order to ensure it doesn’t reach a critical size.  Aneurysms that measure five centimeters or larger generally should be considered for repair.”

In an effort to keep health care professionals informed about advancements in treatment options in the vascular field, Tucson Medical Center supports a monthly series dedicated to vascular disease.  For February, Dr. Leon spoke about state-of-the-art therapy for AAA’s to physicians, nurses and ultrasound technologists.

TMC’s internal vascular series serves a valuable role in keeping clinical staff aware of the latest techniques and devices available to treat vascular problems.  It improves care by building on what TMC staff already knows about caring for these patients.  With a greater understanding of what these patients are going through, they’re able to provide even higher quality compassionate care.

For more information on abdominal aortic aneurysm screening, click here.

For information to help you determine if you should get a screening test, click here.

Ticking time bomb: Screening saves Tucson woman from “silent killer”

The only time Barbara Unger spent time in the hospital as a patient was when she had her two babies.  At 82 years old, that’s pretty impressive.

The retired secretary and bookkeeper was diagnosed with an abdominal aortic aneurysm many years ago during a routine checkup.  The aorta is the main artery that carries blood from the heart, and stretches down into the rest of the body.  In Barbara’s case, the wall of the aorta was permanently ballooned out in her abdomen due to the pressure of blood passing through.  If it ruptured, the results could have been catastrophic.

Dr. Thomas Lindow,Internal Medicine

Dr. Thomas Lindow,
Internal Medicine

After the diagnosis, her aneurysm wasn’t monitored until she switched primary care physicians in May 2010.

Luckily she did.

Her new PCP, Dr. Thomas Lindow, ordered an ultrasound right away.  “The moment we got the results, I saw instantly that it had to be repaired.  I immediately referred her to Dr. Matthew Namanny at Saguaro Surgical,” he said.

“I was very happy to have seen Dr. Lindow.  I’m so grateful he told me how serious the situation was getting,” said Barbara.  Dr. Namanny ordered a CT scan and determined that she needed surgery.

Dr. Matthew Namanny,Saguaro Surgical

Dr. Matthew Namanny,
Saguaro Surgical

During the procedure at Tucson Medical Center, Dr. Namanny placed a small catheter in Barbara’s groin, and used it to insert a stent in her aorta.  This removed the pressure that was causing the aneurysm, and eliminated the chance of it rupturing.  Barbara slept through the entire thing.  “I had no pain, no problem at all.  It was very simple.  I stayed overnight, and went home the next day.  It was as pleasant as a hospital stay can be.  TMC was very accommodating and the nurses took good care of me.  We laughed a lot,” she chuckled.   The surgery was a success.  She’ll just need an annual screening from now on to make sure everything is okay.

Barbara is one of the lucky ones – although she doesn’t quite fit the mold of who abdominal aortic aneurysms affect most often.  “This disease is typically found in older, white men who smoke,” said Dr. Namanny.  Family history also plays a major role.  “I tell every patient who has this, ‘Go tell your siblings, and notify your children.  When they’re about 40 years old, they need to get screened for this,’” he said.

That screening is absolutely essential, and is usually covered by insurance.  Since these aneurysms often don’t present any symptoms, they can go undiagnosed until they rupture and become fatal.  Fortunately, improvements in technology have made it easier for physicians to detect and treat them.

What used to require an open operation followed by a 7-10 day hospital stay, can now be accomplished in one day.  And since the procedure is less-invasive, physicians can operate on older patients who wouldn’t have been able to tolerate the surgery in the past.

For more information on abdominal aortic aneurysm screening, click here.

For information to help you determine if you should get a screening test, click here.


Tucson Medical Center | 5301 E. Grant Road | Tucson, Arizona 85712 | (520) 327-5461