A carotid artery ultrasound is a diagnostic procedure that uses high-frequency sound waves to generate images of the neck's internal carotid arteries, which supply oxygen-rich blood to the brain. A carotid artery ultrasound is used to evaluate a patient's risk of stroke or other cardiovascular complications by checking for artery-narrowing plaque buildup.
In general, candidates for carotid artery ultrasound are those who are at high risk for, or beginning to display the symptoms of, carotid artery disease. Candidates include those who have recently had a stroke or carotid artery surgery; have an abnormal sound in, or damage to the walls of, a carotid artery; or are suspected of having blood clots in a carotid artery. High-risk candidates for carotid artery disease include those who have been diagnosed with diabetes or high cholesterol, or have a family history of heart disease.
During the ultrasound procedure, the patient lies faceup on a table, and a doctor applies a cool gel to both sides of the neck, at each artery's location. A transducer is moved over the arteries to give off sound waves; the sound waves' echoes bounce off the artery walls and blood cells, and are converted into images by a computer. The images, usually in black and white, are then displayed on a computer screen. If a Doppler ultrasound is included in the test, the flow of blood through the arteries can be detected; blood flow is usually shown in color. A carotid artery ultrasound is performed in a doctor's office, and usually takes less than 30 minutes.
There are no risks associated with a carotid artery ultrasound, and patients can return to their regular activities immediately afterward. Results are discussed with the patient shortly after the ultrasound is completed.