Ultrasonography for suspected deep vein thrombosis: how useful is single-point augmentation?

A S McQueen, S T Elliott, M J Keir
Clinical Radiology 2009, 64 (2): 148-55

AIMS: To assess the role of single-point augmentation of spectral Doppler flow in the diagnosis of acute deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Secondary objectives included identifying the augmentation response in non-DVT diagnoses.

METHODS: Patients attending the ultrasound departments of two hospitals for investigation of suspected acute DVT during an 8-month period were recruited to the study group. Spectral Doppler assessment of the superficial femoral vein was recorded during Valsalva and calf compression manoeuvres in the asymptomatic and symptomatic legs. The Doppler waveforms from the symptomatic limb were characterized as "normal" or "abnormal" by the operator. Standard compression ultrasonography of the symptomatic leg was then performed with the presence of DVT or an alternative diagnosis documented.

RESULTS: One hundred and sixty-seven patients underwent ultrasound examinations using the study methodology. Nine patients were subsequently excluded due to bilateral DVT or inability to tolerate calf compression. The mean age of the remaining 158 patients was 65.4 years with 28 DVTs identified (18% of patients). Calf compression elicited a normal response in 118/130 of non-DVT examinations (specificity 91%) and an abnormal response in 18/28 DVT examinations (sensitivity 64%). Diminished or absent augmentation was identified in alternative diagnoses that included haematoma and Baker's cyst.

CONCLUSIONS: This study demonstrates that single-point augmentation has a low sensitivity in suspected lower-limb DVT, and that the majority of undetected DVTs are isolated to the calf veins. An abnormal augmentation response is a poor predictor of lower-limb DVT as alternative diagnoses can produce diminished or reduced augmentation. Therefore, single-point augmentation does not add to the standard compression ultrasound examination for suspected DVT and should not be routinely performed.

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