Purpose: This retrospective study was performed to identify the patterns of calf vein thrombosis in patients in whom deep vein thrombosis (DVT) was suspected and to better define the role of color-flow duplex scanning (CDS) in the evaluation of this patient population.
Methods: Over a recent 9-month period, we reviewed the vascular laboratory charts of 540 symptomatic patients (696 limbs) who underwent CDS for clinically suspected acute DVT. Patients who had a previous episode of DVT were excluded.
Results: CDS satisfactorily visualized all three paired calf veins in 655 of the limbs (94%). Inadequate scans (n = 41) were attributed to edema in 29, excessive calf size in eight, and anatomic inaccessibility in four. Peroneal veins were the most difficult to visualize (n = 29), followed by posterior tibial (n = 10) and anterior tibial (n = 9) veins. CDS identified acute DVT in 159 of 655 limbs (24%) that had adequate scans. Calf vein thrombi were detected in 110 of the 655 limbs (17%) and in 69% of the 159 limbs with DVT. Clots were confined to the calf veins in 53 limbs with DVT (33%). Isolated calf vein thrombi were found in 45% of outpatient limbs and in 27% of inpatient limbs with DVT. The peroneal (81%) and posterior tibial veins (69%) were more frequently involved (p < 0.001) than the anterior tibial veins (21%). In limbs with calf DVT, the prevalence of thrombosis isolated to the peroneal and posterior tibial veins was similar (37% and 25%, respectively); no limb had an isolated anterior tibial DVT (p = 0.02).
Conclusion: CDS is a reliable method for evaluating calf veins for DVT. Calf vein thrombosis is common in patients who have acute DVT and often occurs as an isolated finding. The peroneal and posterior tibial veins are involved in the majority of cases; thrombi occur much less frequently in the anterior tibial veins. We conclude that CDS should be the noninvasive method of choice for the initial evaluation of patients in whom DVT is suspected, and we recommend that calf veins should always be studied but that routine scanning of the anterior tibial veins may not be necessary.