Key Points about Intravascular Ultrasounds

  • An intravascular ultrasound is a test that your cardiologist can use to check your coronary arteries.
  • These arteries wrap around the outside of the heart and supply the heart with oxygen-rich blood.
  • This test uses sound waves to created detailed images of inside the blood vessels.


Your cardiologist may recommend you undergo an intravascular ultrasound to:

  • Determine where to place a stent (a hollow tube that holds a blood vessel open to improve blood flow)
  • Determine which blood vessel is involved in aortic dissection (tear in the inner layer of the aorta, a major blood vessel of the heart)
  • Confirm the correct placement of a stent during angioplasty (a procedure to open up blocked blood vessels)
  • View plaque (fatty deposits) buildup inside the aorta (major blood vessel of the heart) and artery walls

Candidates for an intravascular ultrasound

You may need to undergo an intravascular ultrasound if you have or may have one of the following conditions:

  • Aortic dissection
  • Narrowed arteries
  • Plaque buildup in your arteries

Preparing for an intravascular ultrasound

An intravascular ultrasound is typically performed in a surgical center at the hospital. You will be under general anesthesia (fully asleep) for this test. To begin the procedure, your cardiologist will make a small incision (cut) near your groin. Your cardiologist will insert a thin, flexible tube (catheter) through the incision and to your heart. The catheter has a tiny ultrasound wand on the end of it. 

Expectations for an intravascular ultrasound

Once your cardiologist has reached your heart, he will use the ultrasound imaging machine to obtain detailed images of the inside your blood vessels. After your cardiologist has obtained all the information needed, your cardiologist will remove the catheter back out through the incision near your groin. The incision is closed with a bandage.

Recovery after an intravascular ultrasound

You will spend a few hours in recovery, where we monitor you while the effects of anesthesia wear off. During this time, you will lie flat on your back with pressure on the incision. In some cases, you may be able to return home the same day as the test. In other cases, you may need to spend one night in the hospital.

Your doctor will use the images obtained from the intravascular ultrasound to determine the next steps of your treatment plan. You will likely return to your cardiologist’s office for a follow-up visit to discuss results and your care.

When to seek care

If you think you may need to undergo this test, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing a cardiologist for more specialized treatment. 

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