Key Points about Carotid Artery Ultrasound
- A carotid artery ultrasound checks for blockages or areas of reduced blood flow in the carotid arteries located on the sides of your neck.
- This test is painless, requires no special preparations and takes only about a half hour to complete.
- Your doctor will use your carotid artery ultrasound results to diagnose your condition and create the next steps of your care plan.
Each person has two carotid arteries; they are located on each side of your neck. They serve the important function of bringing oxygenated blood from your heart to your brain. A carotid artery ultrasound uses sound waves to obtain detailed images of your carotid arteries and blood flow through them. Your doctor checks for areas of narrowing (stenosis) or blockage in your carotid arteries using these images.
Candidates for a carotid artery ultrasound
You may be a candidate to undergo this test if you have symptoms of carotid artery stenosis (such as a mini-stroke, problems with your vision or sudden weakness in your face, arms or legs) or if you have multiple risk factors for heart disease (including having diabetes, being obese or having a family history of heart disease).
Risks associated with a carotid artery ultrasound
There are no known risks for undergoing this procedure.
Preparing for a carotid artery ultrasound
You should wear a comfortable shirt with no collar or an open collar to the test. Leave all jewelry – including necklaces and earrings – at home. In most cases, you won’t need to make any other special preparations for the carotid ultrasound.
Expectations during a carotid artery ultrasound
Carotid artery ultrasounds are performed in a doctor’s office or radiology lab. You will lie on your back on an exam table. The ultrasound technician may move your head some during the test so he or she can obtain the best access to your carotid arteries on the side of your neck.
The ultrasound technician will apply warm gel to the sides of your neck. This gel helps the ultrasound wand (transducer) better transmit the images. The ultrasound tech holds the transducer and moves it over your carotid arteries, gently pressing against your neck.
The entire test usually takes about 30 minutes. When it is complete, the ultrasound tech will give you a paper towel to wipe the gel off your neck. You shouldn’t have any restrictions to your activities following the carotid ultrasound. Your doctor’s office will call you to make a follow-up appointment to discuss your test results.
Conditions that may need a carotid artery ultrasound
You may need to undergo this procedure if you have any of the following conditions, which increase your risk for stenosis or stroke:
- Coronary artery disease
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- High cholesterol
- Recent stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA)
- Unusual sound (bruit) in your carotid arteries when your doctor listens with a stethoscope
If you have a family history of stroke or heart disease, your doctor may also recommend you undergo a carotid artery ultrasound.
When to seek care
If you think you may need a carotid artery ultrasound, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing a cardiologist for more specialized treatment.