What is a carotid artery ultrasound?
- A carotid artery ultrasound is a test used to evaluate how efficiently your blood flows through the carotid arteries.
- Carotid arteries, which are located on both sides of your neck, can narrow as plaque, from fat cholesterol or calcium, builds up inside the vessels.
- Early diagnosis and treatment for narrowed carotid arteries can prevent stroke and lower your risk of a future stroke.
- Your doctor may order a carotid artery ultrasound if you are at higher risk for having a stroke or if he or she suspects you have a narrowed carotid artery.
- Follow your doctor’s instructions in preparation for a carotid artery ultrasound. Instructions may include no smoking or drinking caffeine within two hours of the test. Do not wear jewelry or remove it before the test.
- If your test results are abnormal, your doctor will develop a treatment plan to reduce your risk of stroke.
Who is a candidate for a carotid artery ultrasound?
If you are at risk of a stroke or your doctor suspects you have a narrowed carotid artery, he or she may recommend a carotid artery ultrasound.
Risks factors that increase your chances of having a stroke include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Family history of heart disease
- Having a recent transient ischemic attack (TIA)
- Coronary artery disease
How to prepare for a carotid artery ultrasound?
Your provider will give you instructions on how to prepare for a carotid artery ultrasound. Instructions may include:
- Do not smoke or drink caffeine within two hours of the test. Nicotine and caffeine can shrink your blood vessels and potentially distort the accuracy of your results.
- Wear clothing that is loose or has an open neck.
- Do not wear jewelry or be prepared to remove it before the test.
What can you expect during a carotid artery ultrasound?
An echocardiogram can be performed in the hospital or a clinic setting. You will be instructed to lie on your back while your ultrasound technician positions your head to best access the side of your neck.
The technician will apply gel to the skin above the carotid artery and move a transducer back and forth over the artery. The transducer will produce sound waves that will convert to images.
The test is painless.
How long does a carotid artery ultrasound last?
A radiologist, a doctor who specializes in diagnostic images, will review your test results, and prepare a report for your provider. Your provider will then review your results with you.
If your tests are abnormal, it means you are at higher risk of having a stroke. Your doctor will likely develop a treatment plan to help reduce your risk of stroke.
What are results of a carotid artery ultrasound?
Treatments may include:
- Modified diet. Eat a healthy diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole-grain bread, and low in saturated fat.
- Exercise. Exercise three to four days a week for 30 minutes or more.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Quitting smoking.
- Medications. You may be prescribed medications to prevent blood clots or lower blood cholesterol and blood pressure.
- Surgery. Have a procedure such as carotid endarterectomy to remove plaque or carotid angioplasty to open up your arteries.
You will likely get a carotid ultrasound after surgery to evaluate if the treatment is working or if you need additional treatments.