When people hear the word ‘ultrasound’, they immediately think of pregnancy. But did you know that ultrasound is one of the most common and effective methods of detecting deep vein thrombosis?
It’s true that physicians have a number of ways to produce an image of the inside of a patient’s body; however, x-rays only show bony elements, and MRIs can be extremely time-consuming and expensive. Ultrasounds, on the other hand, can be performed directly at the point of care and usually only cost a few hundred dollars before insurance.
It’s this precise accessibility that has given rise to a new market. Ultrasound machines have rapidly gotten smaller, sleeker, and less expensive. Once thought of as enormously complex and costly instruments, ultrasounds today can often fit in the palm of your hand. This new portability and price decrease, along with the non-invasive nature of the ultrasound, have blurred the lines between ultrasounds as a medical instrument and a consumer tool.
Manufacturers are currently navigating the changing waters. They aren’t yet recommending that consumers buy mobile ultrasound machines, but they aren’t forbidding it either. So the question is, can you use a mobile ultrasound device to diagnose your own DVT?
How Does an Ultrasound Detect DVT?
Physicians typically use either Doppler ultrasound or duplex ultrasound to accurately detect deep vein thrombosis.
Doppler ultrasound bounces high-frequency sound waves off of circulating blood vessels to estimate blood flow. Duplex ultrasound, meanwhile, combines both traditional and Doppler ultrasounds to create a colored, 2-dimensional image that more effectively visualizes blood flow.
From there, doctors can assess potential blockages, clots, and other vein issues in the patient by evaluating whether proper blood flow exists in the imaged region.
An ultrasound test is fast, non-invasive, and highly effective.
One Minute Ultrasound
This is an instructional app found inside the iTunes store. It contains lessons and video content describing proper ultrasound technique, but it does not offer any ultrasound capabilities. While technology has progressed quickly, beware of any app that claims or suggests that it can turn your mobile device into an ultrasound machine. This capability simply isn’t available yet.
Vscan by GEHealth
This portable ultrasound device costs roughly $7,000 and weighs about one pound. The Vscan offers a color flow mode, features two transducers for both shallow and deep imaging, and automatically optimizes captured images.
MobiUS Ultrasound by Mobisante
This device is often marketed as the “smartphone ultrasound”, though the description can be misleading. The MobiUS is a mobile ultrasound device that doubles as a cell phone, running off of an old Toshiba TG01. This device costs upwards of $7,000, however, Mobisante expects to have a standalone model available soon that will plug into iPhones, iPads, and Android devices.
Ultrasound Therapy Devices
Ultrasound therapy stimulates human tissue below the surface of the skin in order to aid in healing sprains, strains, joint inflammation, and more. Ultrasound therapy devices are widely available for as little as $100 but offer no imaging capabilities.
Should I Buy My Own Ultrasound Machine?
While the new accessibility of ultrasound is exciting for consumers everywhere, the technology is not ready for the mass market. Manufacturers of portable ultrasound devices—though they don’t strictly forbid it—currently caution against home use by non-physicians.
Reading an ultrasound scan for vein disorders requires highly specialized training. It’s unlikely that home ultrasound will ever provide more than a chance for expectant mothers to get a cursory glance at their babies, let alone a chance for patients to diagnose their ailments with any level of accuracy.
The market could have a future, however, if we realign our expectations. Some experts have forecasted the world where patients perform their own scans at home and send the results to their doctor for analysis, which could become a significant cost and time-saving measure.
For now, if you suffer from frequent bouts of deep vein thrombosis, it’s still much more cost-effective and accurate to seek the consult of a medical professional.