It was suggested by my endocrinologist that I have an Adrenal Vein Sampling Test (AVS) to determine the aldosterone production values.
I have read all sorts of information about this procedure on the web-- how it's often difficult to get the catheter in the right adrenal vein, and that sometimes the adrenals can get damaged. I also read that up to 50% of patients can have an unsuccessful reading. All very scary, risky stuff to me.
Feeling like a lab rat, I was eager to get to the next level of a prognosis, so I agreed to take it. I made a second appointment with my endo to get as many facts as I could on the procedure, and I recommend anyone with Conn's to do the same as this is a serious procedure.
Doctors who perform the AVS are interventional radiologists. The doctor recommended to me was also at Mercy, Dr. Robert Liddell. Since I'm only mentioning in this blog the doctors who I highly recommend, I can say without hesitation both Dr. Sardi (surgeon) and Dr. Liddell are two doctors I feel fortunate to have. Both are well-known experts in their fields, and have staffs that are equally as helpful.
THE AVS PROCEDURE AND WHAT TO EXPECT
There really isn't much to do prior to the surgery. If you are on spiro, you must go off it. After midnight, you cannot eat or drink anything. This includes water. You also can't take your BP meds the day of the AVS, so I suggest taking them right before midnight with a big glass of water. If you are like me, you are probably dehydrated often, so this part was tough, especially in the morning when all you want to do is drink a tall glass of H2O.
Day of Preparations:
The earlier you take the test the better as you will be parched and low on potassium. My procedure was at 11:00 but there were two hours of prep time.
Things should move fairly quickly once you are admitted. I was in a bed by 10:30 getting a lot of details of the surgery from a nurse. I'll stop here and say I recommend you take someone with you that you can lean on. This is a serious test and it will become a pretty intense day for you quickly, so you really should not go it alone.
The first thing the nurse will do is take your blood pressure. Then you will have your temperature taken. They stuck a weird instrument in my ear to get mine, which I wasn't familiar with.
Next, you'll get a catheter inserted (no, not fun at all). It is rather unpleasant if you've never had one-- the first half hour is uncomfortable with pressure. Since this is a procedure where another catheter goes into both sides of your groin, you will be shaved down there a bit.
About 20 minutes later, you will receive an I.V. for the anesthesia.
A nurse will take your blood pressure about 3-4 times before they wheel you in, as they want to make sure it's not high.
Soon after, the doctor arrives and he explains how the procedure works, how long it usually takes and what the risks are. Like I had read, the major risks are blood clotting, not being able to find the adrenals, which result in an insufficient reading-something you don't want to occur. I was thrilled when he didn't mention words like death or imploding adrenals.
About an hour or so after being admitted, you will be wheeled in to the operating room where about 4 nurses are prepping for your surgery. They will clean and sterilize your groin area for a bit and then place a piece of heavy tape or plastic between your legs up to your chest. You will then be administered a sedative and anesthesia- mine was Fentanyl and something else. It takes very little time to get loopy and go under. There will be nurse at your side the entire time to answer any questions, or just hold your hand. The other nurses will be helping the doctor and cleaning/preping instruments. I was surprised to see so many nurses, but like I said, this was a complicated procedure.
You may be in and out of consciousness during the procedure. I could see my doctor looking at a computer screen while operating the catheters. If you are like me, you may have an odd side effect of the fentanyl by your nose itching like crazy. Towards the end, the doctor woke me and said he was having a hard time finding my right adrenal but didn't want to stop and would it be ok to continue longer- I said yes which put me in there for four hours, a bit on the long side for this procedure.
You'll return to your bed and will be out of it for about one hour. The nurses will check on you constantly checking for hematomas (which I had) and clotting. You will be asked to keep you legs as straight and still as possible which can be difficult. You will be severely dehydrated but have to wait to drink. Eventually- about 20 minutes or so- they should give you ice chips and then a cup of water. After that you can have juice, soda and some food. I had no appetite at all but ate some crackers. I recommend trying to get something because you'll have a lot of drugs in your system. They also want you to stay flat on your back for an hour and then will raise your head 30 degrees two times after.
The doctor will then come in and tell you how the procedure went. He will not have the results of the hormone levels for at least one week. The discharge instructions are to avoid getting the opening infected and to watch for bleeding.
After you have recovered for 2 hours, they ask you stand to see that you can walk, then you get to go home. Again, make sure someone is driving you- you won't be in the best condition to do this yourself.
When you get home, you will be completely out of it and want to just sleep. You may get ill from the fentanyl, which is still in your system. When you are home, you are advised to drink 16 oz of liquid to flush out the anesthesia. Saltines help too.
Soreness is also expected, and mine began 3 hours later. I felt pain in places I didn't expect- like my arms and lower legs. The pain was overwhelming in my groin area. Severe bruising started the next day and is expected, but it's important to make sure it's soft, not hard. As well, check your bandage for excessive bleeding. I have no idea why they don't send you home with a day or two worth of painkillers, they really should. I took 600 mg of advil, and slept a lot.
The Dr. says you'll be fine in a day--but I was pretty sore for three days. One tip- DO NOT lift anything for the first two days. Seriously, I did this and paid for it...lots of pain. The results come in about 5-6 days.
While it a tough procedure, it will really help you see if surgery is your next step.
I hope this information helps you and wish you luck.
To read more about the AVS procedure with complete medical terminology and explanations, go to:
If you live in the Baltimore/DC area and need to have this test, contact:
Dr. Robert Liddell
301 St. Paul Place, 1st Floor Tower
Dept. of Radiology
Baltimore, Maryland 21202
Phone: 410-332-9268 Fax: 410-545-4255