What is a Carotid Ultrasound?
The Carotid Ultrasound is a painless and non-invasive test that uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of the interior of your carotid arteries. The carotid arteries deliver blood from your heart to your brain. You have two common carotid arteries, one on each side of your neck; they divide into internal and external carotid arteries. The internal carotid arteries supply oxygen rich blood to your brain, whereas the external carotid arteries supply oxygen rich blood to your face, scalp and neck.
A carotid ultrasound will reveal any built up plaque in your carotid arteries. Plaque is a waxy substance and its buildup in the carotid arteries is called carotid artery disease. Over a period of time the plaque can harden or rupture, hardened plaque narrows the carotid arteries and reduces the flow of blood to the brain.
In the event the plaque ruptures, a blood clot forms on its surface, it can largely or completely block blood flow through a carotid artery, this may cause a stroke. A piece of plaque or a blood clot can break away from the wall of the carotid artery, travel through the bloodstream and get stuck in one of the brain’s smaller arteries. This can block blood flow in the artery and cause a stroke.
A standard carotid ultrasound shows the structure of your carotid arteries, in addition to this a Doppler ultrasound might be required to fully assess whether you have a blood flow problem in your carotid arteries. Doppler ultrasound is a special test that shows the movement of blood through your blood vessels in real-time.
Carotid ultrasound is usually used to test for blocked or narrowed carotid arteries, which can indicate an increased risk of stroke. These results can help your doctor determine the kind of treatment you may need to lower your risk of stroke.
Why is a Carotid Ultrasound Performed?
The primary purpose of a carotid ultrasound is to test for narrowed carotid arteries that indicate an increased risk of stroke. Narrowing of carotid arteries is usually caused by plaque – a buildup of fat, cholesterol, calcium and other substances that circulate in the bloodstream. Early detection of narrowed carotid arteries enables your doctor to begin treatments to improve blood flow to your brain and decrease your risk of stroke.
Your doctor may recommend a carotid ultrasound if you have medical conditions that increase the risk of stroke:
- High blood pressure
- High Cholesterol
- Family History of Stroke or Heart Disease
- Recent TIA (Transient Ischemic Attack) or Stroke
- Abnormal Sound in Carotid Arteries
Additionally you may have a Doppler ultrasound that evaluates the blood flow through your carotid arteries. A carotid ultrasound may be used in combination with other tests to screen for narrowed or blocked blood vessels in other areas of your body:
- Abdominal Ultrasound (for finding the condition of abdominal blood vessels and organs )
- Ankle – Brachial Index Test (by measuring and comparing the blood flow of the arms and ankles, the test can indicate a reduced or blocked blood flow to your legs)
Other Uses of a Carotid UltrasoundYour Doctor May Also Order a Carotid Ultrasound to:
- Evaluate the structure and function of the artery after surgery to remove plaques (Carotid Endarterectomy)
- Evaluate the Placement and Treatment Effect of a Stent which is a Mesh Tube used to Improve Blood Flow through an Artery by Mechanically Decreasing the Narrowing
- Locate a Collection of Clotted Blood (Hematoma) that may Inhibit Blood Flow
- Detect other Abnormalities in the Structure of a Carotid Artery that may Disrupt Blood Flow