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What tests do physicians use to diagnose thoracic outlet syndrome?

The diagnosis of thoracic outlet syndrome is suggested by the symptoms and supported by findings of the doctor during the examination. Certain maneuvers of the arm and neck can produce symptoms and blood vessel "pinching," causing a loss of pulse. This includes the Adson's maneuver, whereby the examiner moves the shoulder joint into positions that can cause pinching of both the nerves and artery to the tested arm. Further supportive testing can include electrical tests, such as electromyogram (EMG) and somatosensory evoked responses (although these may not be positive in all patients). Some patients can have angiogram X-ray tests that demonstrate the pinched area of the blood vessel involved.

Return to Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS)

See what others are saying

Comment from: WhoKnewIWasAnAthlete, 25-34 Female (Patient) Published: August 04

After I developed a blood clot the emergency room performed an ultrasound to locate the clot. It took a while to figure out that I needed to see a vascular Surgeon, but within minutes of meeting me, he said he was 90 percent certain I had thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS). That was confirmed by what I think was an ultrasound (they put stickies all over my arms and chest and asked me to sit and move my body in certain positions). From that test they saw that, for example, when I raised my arms above my head, the blood didn't flow from my heart to my hands, as it would for someone without TOS.

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Comment from: fanniejane, 55-64 Female (Patient) Published: March 08

I was injured in a rear end auto accident 16 years ago. When my case was approaching settlement my attorney advised that the doctor's notes indicated that he diagnosed me thoracic outlet syndrome (TOC). Over the years I have not been bothered by the condition. However, in the last six months, I began having severe pain in my shoulders, neck, arms and hands and this is bilateral. I fell in the bathtub but felt no immediate pain. After taking Aleve, Tylenol and other over the counter medications to no avail, I saw a doctor. During my visit I told the doctor that I was told that I have TOC. The doctor never acknowledged that I have TOC, but prescribed 650 mg of Tylenol and 350 mg of gabapentin, three times a day. I have pain daily and the medicine makes me groggy. I was sent to physical therapy, but on my first visit, they used ice. The pain was excruciating and was worse than the pain I was having before the therapy. I am about to undergo a CT scan, but the doctor is focusing on my lungs because the hospital has a grant to do lung studies for smokers. I can only hope that the scan will include the areas that are involved in my TOC.

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Comment from: acw, 35-44 Female (Patient) Published: September 25

I have had electromyography to diagnose thoracic outlet syndrome and they numbed the muscles in my neck to relax them. For the first time in 2 1/2 years I didn't have a headache and my left arm didn't hurt.

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