Pulse wave velocity fact sheet

A pulse wave velocity test is a non-invasive measurement of the elasticity of arteries.

The test gives important information about blood vessel functioning and whether there is any abnormal function. It can also act as an independent predictor of cardiovascular events. The European Society of Hypertension endorses the test.

Overview

A pulse wave velocity test measures the stiffness of large arteries. The more stiff a person’s arteries are, the higher their risk of a cardiovascular event. A slower pulse wave velocity indicates that arteries are elastic and distensible, which is a sign of good blood vessel health.

Test results may reveal early detection of high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries, poor blood circulation, and disturbances in smaller blood vessels, which may not appear during a blood pressure test involving a pressurised cuff. The pulse wave velocity test also shows the relative age of someone’s blood vessels.

Doctors may use this test to assess heart health, manage and observe disease progression, and monitor effects of treatment, such as conventional therapies and medications. The test can also show how well a person is adapting to making healthy eating and lifestyle changes to improve their health.

Evidence and science behind the pulse wave velocity test

Several small studies have been done using the pulse wave velocity test, but a large meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology in 2010 confirmed that the test is capable of predicting mortality and cardiovascular events.

The meta-analysis revealed that after adjusting for conventional risk factors for cardiovascular events, such as gender, systolic blood pressure and age, the pulse wave velocity test gave statistically significant ratios for health risks.

The test showed hazard ratios for a one-standard-deviation change in pulse wave velocity as 1.18 for mortality, 1.19 for coronary heart disease, 1.25 for stroke, and 1.27 for cardiovascular events. The analysis found that the test is most effective for prediction in people younger than 50, though still useful for people over 50.

How it is performed?

A pulse wave velocity test is performed with devices that utilize either cuff or probes to measure blood circulation speed in meters per second.

Medical professionals use the devices to measure blood flow at the carotid artery. The device calculates the difference in the speed that blood flows in these two areas and that determines the stiffness of arteries.

Who does the test?

General practitioners and medical specialists may perform the pulse wave velocity test

When and how often?

People who have vascular disease or risk factors may need this test at a young age. Generally, however, healthy individuals should start getting this test at the age of 40.

Contraindications

The pulse wave velocity test is completely safe, but many doctors and medical centers still haven’t adopted this technology. The United States is particularly slow to adopt the test, which is much more common in Europe and Australia.

References

Last reviewed 24/Feb/2017

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