DVT PoCUS: When?, Where?, How? and What to do next?


Dr. Kyle Traboulsee

EM Physician, PoCUS Fellow

Reviewed by Dr. David Lewis

Copyedited by Dr. Rawan Alrashed 



Lower extremity deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a common, and potentially life-threatening vascular condition, with an annual incidence of 1 per 1000 adults. If left untreated, it may progress to pulmonary embolism, which is associated with a higher mortality. Therefore, accurate and timely diagnosis and treatment are incredibly important. (1,2,3)

An initial approach to the diagnosis of DVT involves risk stratification, often with the clinical risk score “Well’s score”, in conjunction with D-dimer assays. Based on the associated pre-test probability of the above risk stratification, further imaging may be required.

Although the gold standard for the diagnosis of DVT has traditionally been contrast venography, Duplex ultrasonography has become the standard of care due (in large part) to its lack of radiation and intravenous contrast, as well as widespread availability. This elective scan evaluates from groin to ankle and can take upwards of 1 hour depending on the difficulty of the individual exam. Studies have shown that a simplified ultrasound technique, limited to proximal segments of the femoral and popliteal veins using compression alone has a high sensitivity and specificity for proximal DVT detection. (2,4)

Point of care ultrasound (POCUS) has been increasingly used by emergency room physicians to assess for proximal lower extremity DVTs, with studies finding comparable diagnostic accuracy to radiology or vascular lab-performed duplex ultrasonography for detection of proximal DVT. (2)




Figure 1: Veins of the lower extremity (5)
















The venous anatomy of the lower limb is relatively simple. The most proximal vein of interest is the Common Femoral Vein (CFV), which gives off the great saphenous vein (a superficial branch). Distal to this, the Common Femoral Vein should bifurcate into the Deep Femoral Vein, and Femoral Vein.


       N.B: the Femoral Vein also known as the Superficial Femoral Vein, but because it is still considered a deep vein with respect to the diagnosis of deep vein thrombosis, it is usually referred to as simply the Femoral Vein.


As the femoral Vein travels distally, it enters the adductor canal, passing posterior to the knee, and becomes the popliteal vein. The popliteal vein gives rise to three deep veins at the level of the calf: the perineal vein, anterior tibial vein, and posterior tibial vein. (5)


DVT POCUS protocols

There are multiple POCUS protocols with respect to lower extremity DVT evaluation, ranging from a 2-point ultrasound scan to a whole leg protocol. The more commonly studied, and utilized, protocols in the emergency department are referred to as the 2-point compression study and 3-point compression study. (1,2,5)

(It should be noted that the “points” are regions being scanned, opposed to distinct, singular points).


Figure 2: DVT protocols (5)



2-point compression study

This study evaluates the:

  • common femoral vein
  • popliteal vein

The common femoral vein is evaluated from the inguinal ligament until it becomes the femoral vein, including the junction of the common femoral vein and greater saphenous vein (CFV-GSV). Ensure this scan includes at least 1-2cm above and below the CFV-GSV junction. (2)

The popliteal vein is assessed from the popliteal fossa until it trifurcates. (2)


3-point compression study

This technique evaluates the:

  • Common femoral vein
  • Femoral vein
  • Popliteal vein.

Like the “2-point” examination, the common femoral vein is evaluated from the inguinal ligament until it becomes the femoral vein (including the CFV-GSV junction). The femoral vein is then further evaluated at least 2 cm distal to the bifurcation of the femoral vein and deep femoral vein. Some variations on the 3-point protocol may suggest continued evaluation of the femoral vein distally as it transitions to the popliteal vein. (2,4,5)


PoCUS Technique (3-point compression technique)

The linear array is the probe of choice for this scan.


 Femoral Veins


  1. Position the patient by raising the head of the stretcher 30 degrees and placing the patient in reverse Trendelenburg (if able). This allows distension of the lower limb veins. Slightly flex the knee and externally rotate the hip. (4,5)
  2. Place the probe along the inguinal ligament in the transverse plane midway between the pubic symphysis and anterior superior iliac spine and identify the common femoral vein (CFV). The common femoral artery and vein should be side by side, with the artery lateral to the vein.
  3. Ensure that you are at the most proximal part by sliding the probe proximally towards the abdomen until the CFV become in the far field obscured by bowel gases (most proximal point) then slide the probe distally and  Apply firm pressure with the probe until the vein collapses completely, or the artery begins to collapse without full collapse of the vein (which could indicate a DVT). (4,5)


Fig 3: Common femoral vein (5)

CFA: Common femoral artery
CFV: Common femoral Vein (5)

CFV compression (5)














4. After that slowly slide the probe distally, stopping every centimeter (or every width of the probe head), to compress the vein, ensuring it flattens completely. The end point of the scan is 1-2 cm distal to the bifurcation of the common femoral vein into the deep femoral vein and femoral vein. (4,5)

a. Within the first 1-2 cm, the great saphenous vein will branch off from the common femoral vein, usually medially and near field. Monitor the compressibility of both the common femoral vein, as well as the first 1-2 cm of the great saphenous vein.


Fig. 4: Branching of great saphenous vein (5)

CFA: common femoral artery
CFV: common femoral vein
SV: Great Saphenous Vein (5)















b. The common femoral vein should bifurcate into the deep femoral vein, and femoral vein 1-2 cm distal to the CFV-GSV junction.  Ensure compressibility is assessed at least 1-2 cm distal to the bifurcation if the common femoral vein. Consider continuing to scan distally until the femoral vein becomes the popliteal vein or are no longer able to assess.


Fig.5: Femoral vein (5)

FA: Femoral Artery
FV: Femoral Vein (5)















Popliteal vein

  1. If the posterior aspect of the knee (popliteal fossa) can be easily accessed in the patient’s current position (i.e., hip externally rotated, knee slightly flexed), no further positioning changes are needed. Other options include having the patient turn to a lateral decubitus position, with the leg of interest above the other, or, have the patient sit on the side of the stretcher, with their legs dangling. (4,5)
  2. Place the probe into the posterior crease of the knee (popliteal fossa), in a transverse plane and scan 2 cm above and below to locate the popliteal vein. If the structure is not immediately identified, slide the probe slightly medially and laterally to attempt to locate it. The vein should be near field, and directly over, the popliteal artery. Once located, assess compressibility of the vessel (4,5)


Fig. 6: Popliteal Vein (5)

PA: Popliteal Artery
PV: Popliteal Vein (5)

Popliteal Vein compression (5)














Continue scanning distally (assessing compressibility along the way), until the popliteal vein trifurcates into the anterior tibial, posterior tibial, and peroneal vein. This marks the end of the examination. (4,5)


Fig.7: Popliteal Vein trifurcation (5)

PA: Popliteal artery
V: Popliteal Vein Trifurcation (5)














Doppler flow augmentation

If the veins are difficult to identify or compress, color doppler can be applied. With the probe held stationary over the vessel in question, gently squeeze the calf distal to the probe. This should augment blood flow into the vein of interest and appear (briefly) as a brighter signal. If there is no increase in blood flow seen, a DVT could be present. (3,5)

Of note, normal venous flow will also change with the respiratory cycle. As the intrabdominal pressure increases with inspiration, venous return from the lower extremities will decrease, while with expiration, flow increases. This can be appreciated with spectral doppler. (3)


Positive Scan

Failure to completely collapse the vein (with enough pressure to partially compress the adjacent artery), at any level, is highly suggestive for the presence of a clot.

Depending on the chronicity of the clot, it may appear echogenic enough to directly visualize under ultrasound, but this is not always the case. (3,4,5)


Direct clot visualization (5)

Non-compressible popliteal vein (own image)

Doppler flow around a DVT, popliteal vein (own image)


The Evidence

A meta-analysis published in 2019, looked at 16 articles utilizing either 2-point compression or 3-point compression and found comparable sensitivities and specificities for proximal DVT, with no statistically significant difference (1):


2-point compression technique

Sensitivity 91%

Specificity 98%


3-point compression technique

Sensitivity 90%

Specificity 95%


Although there was no statistically significant difference between tests, many clinicians still recommend performing the 3-point compression, to include visualization of the femoral vein.

Other studies have quoted sensitivities ranging from 93% to as high as 100% (3).

It’s important to note that compression ultrasound alone is not accurate at picking up below-knee DVT. It is rare for below-knee DVT to progress to pulmonary embolism without first extending to an above-knee DVT. Therefore, although proximal DVT is of more clinical significance in the emergency department, a negative proximal PoCUS DVT scan should be followed by a repeat scan in 5-7 days to ensure a below-knee DVT was not missed. (3)


Pitfalls (false positives and negatives)

False negatives

  • Small, non-occlusive DVTs may near completely compress under applied probe pressure. Ensure complete vein occlusion when applying pressure during scan.
  • Excessive probe pressure. If enough pressure is applied to compress the adjacent artery, then a DVT may also be compressed.
  • A pelvic vein DVT may be missed either due to starting the scan to distally or being unable to compress the vein due to its location. Further imaging may be required if high clinical suspicion including venography, MRI, or extended ultrasound to include the iliac vessels and IVC (3,4).


False positives

  • Lymph nodes can appear as non-compressible vessels. If in doubt, rotating the probe in a longitudinal orientation will reveal the spherical nature of the lymph node.
  • Superficial thrombophlebitis. These non-compressible superficial veins may be mistaken for deep veins. The major difference is superficial veins should not accompany arteries.
  • Recanalized DVT. Old thrombi that have recanalized may not compress appropriately under probe pressure, but flow should be apparent on color doppler imaging. (3,4,5)


Approach to DVT Diagnosis/exclusion

One in three patients with untreated DVTs will progress to clinically significant pulmonary emboli, thus diagnosis and treatment of DVT is vitally important.

Although a positive scan is very helpful, a negative scan does not rule out a thrombus, specifically a below-knee DVT, which can propagate to an above-knee DVT, and eventually a PE given time.

Multiple diagnostic approaches have been described, incorporating the DVT PoCUS scan, well established risk stratification tools (Such as Well’s criteria), and repeat imaging. Below is one such approach, adapted from Mazzolai 2017. (5,6)


DVT diagnostic algorithm (5)


Bottom Line

DVT PoCUS is a (relatively) simple scan, that can be performed quickly and used to assess for proximal DVT. Its utility is well recognized, and it is considered one of the core ultrasound applications for emergency medicine physicians by the American College of Emergency Physicians.

When assessing for DVT, the PoCUS scan should be incorporated into a diagnostic algorithm along with other risk stratification tools, and due to its low sensitivity for below-knee DVT, repeat imaging in the context of a negative scan may be warranted.



  1. Lee, J. H., Lee, S. H., & Yun, S. J. (2019). Comparison of 2-point and 3-point point-of-care ultrasound techniques for deep vein thrombosis at the Emergency Department. Medicine, 98(22).
  2. Varrias, D., Palaiodimos, L., Balasubramanian, P., Barrera, C. A., Nauka, P., Melainis, A. A., Zamora, C., Zavras, P., Napolitano, M., Gulani, P., Ntaios, G., Faillace, R. T., & Galen, B. (2021). The use of point-of-care ultrasound (Pocus) in the diagnosis of deep vein thrombosis. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 10(17), 3903.
  3. Atkinson, P., Bowra, J., Harris, T., Jarman, B., & Lewis, D. (2019). Point-of-care ultrasound for Emergency Medicine and Resuscitation. Oxford University Press
  4. Socransky, S., & Wiss, R. (2016). Essentials of point-of-care ultrasound: The ede book. The EDE 2 Course, Inc.
  5. Dinh, V. (n.d.). DVT Ultrasound made easy: Step-by-step guide. POCUS 101. Retrieved November 26, 2021, from https://www.pocus101.com/dvt-ultrasound-made-easy-step-by-step-guide/.
  6. Mazzolai, L., Aboyans, V., Ageno, W., Agnelli, G., Alatri, A., Bauersachs, R., Brekelmans, M. P., Büller, H. R., Elias, A., Farge, D., Konstantinides, S., Palareti, G., Prandoni, P., Righini, M., Torbicki, A., Vlachopoulos, C., & Brodmann, M. (2017). Diagnosis and management of acute deep vein thrombosis: A joint consensus document from the European Society of cardiology working groups of aorta and peripheral vascular diseases and pulmonary circulation and right ventricular function. European Heart Journal, 39(47), 4208–4218.
  7. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT). ACEP Symbol. (n.d.). Retrieved November 29, 2021, from https://www.acep.org/sonoguide/basic/dvt/.


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