A carotid ultrasound is a safe, painless procedure that uses ultrasound waves from a machine to examine the structure and function of the arteries in the neck. You have two carotid arteries, one from each side of the neck that delivers blood from the heart to your brain.
Carotid ultrasound may be used by your doctor to screen for blockages that increase your risk of a stroke. A build up of fats, cholesterol, and calcium in the blood stream may cause narrowing in the arteries. Early detection of narrowing of the carotid arteries enables your doctor to begin treatments that improve blood flow to the brain and decrease the risk of a stroke.
A carotid ultrasound may be recommended by your doctor of you have any of the following risk factors that increase your risk of stroke.
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Family history of stroke or heart disease
A carotid ultrasound to screen for stroke may be used in combination with other tests.
- Abdominal ultrasound, to screen for potential abdominal aortic aneurysm, a ballooning of the large artery that supplies blood to the abdomen, pelvis and legs.
- Ankle-brachial index test, this is a comparison of the blood pressure measured at the ankle and your blood pressure measured at the arm. This can indicate a blockage of blood flow to the legs.
You can prepare for the appointment, call the day before to confirm the time and location of the exam. Wear a comfortable shirt with no collar or an open collar. Do not wear any necklaces of dangling earrings. Other than that you should not need any special preparations.
The sonographer will apply a warm gel to your skin above the site of each carotid artery. The gel helps eliminate the formation of air pockets between you skin and the transducer. The sonographer then gently presses the transducer against the side of your neck in order for the instrument to send and receive sound waves. You should not feel any discomfort during the procedure.
Your cardiologist will review and interpret the results of your carotid ultrasound. The cardiologist will then explain the results of the carotid ultrasound and how it affects your medical care. If the test was ordered to screen for stroke risk, your cardiologist may recommend the following treatments, depending on the severity of the blockage: Change in your diet and routine exercise, medication to lower blood cholesterol, medication to prevent clots, surgical procedure to remove the plaques. Additional tests may be ordered of the results are unclear. These include Computerized tomography (CT) or Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).