Carotid (ka-ROT-id) ultrasound is a painless and harmless test that uses high-frequency sound waves to create pictures of the insides of your carotid arteries.
You have two common carotid arteries, one on each side of your neck. They each divide into internal and external carotid arteries.
The internal carotid arteries supply oxygen-rich blood to your brain. The external carotid arteries supply oxygen-rich blood to your face, scalp, and neck.
Carotid ultrasound shows whether a waxy substance called plaque (plak) has built up in your carotid arteries. The buildup of plaque in the carotid arteries is called carotid artery disease.
Over time, plaque can harden or rupture (break open). Hardened plaque narrows the carotid arteries and reduces the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the brain.
If the plaque ruptures, a blood clot can form on its surface. A clot can mostly or completely block blood flow through a carotid artery, which can cause a stroke.
A piece of plaque or a blood clot also can break away from the wall of the carotid artery. The plaque or clot can 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. Your carotid ultrasound test might include a Doppler ultrasound. Doppler ultrasound is a special test that shows the movement of blood through your blood vessels.
Your doctor might need results from both types of ultrasound to fully assess whether you have a blood flow problem in your carotid arteries.
A carotid ultrasound shows whether you have plaque buildup in your carotid arteries. Over time, plaque can harden or rupture (break open). This can reduce or block the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your brain and cause a stroke.
Your doctor may recommend a carotid ultrasound if you:
Your doctor may also recommend a carotid ultrasound if he or she thinks you have:
A carotid ultrasound also might be done to see whether carotid artery surgery, also called carotid endarterectomy (END-ar-ter-EK-to-me), has restored normal blood flow through a carotid artery.
If you had a procedure called carotid stenting, your doctor might use carotid ultrasound afterward to check the position of the stent in your carotid artery. (The stent, a small mesh tube, supports the inner artery wall.)
Carotid ultrasound sometimes is used as a preventive screening test in people at increased risk of stroke, such as those who have high blood pressure and diabetes.
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