The carotid arteries, pronounced “kuh-ROT-id,” are the two large blood vessels on the sides of your neck that carry blood from your heart to your brain. Your cardiologist may recommend an ultrasound test if he suspects you have blockage in either vital artery or if you have any level of carotid stenosis, also called carotid artery disease.
The carotid ultrasound, sometimes referred to as a Doppler test, is completely painless and risk-free. It’s a non-invasive procedure that requires you to lie down while a sonographer moves a wand over your neck. Real-time pictures of the blood flow in the artery are shown on the screen of a nearby monitor. Images on the screen can measure:
- The amount of plaque build-up (blockage)
- Any narrowing of the artery walls
- The direction and speed of blood flow
- Pressure of blood on the artery walls
- The location of a potential blood clot
- The effectiveness of any surgery performed on your carotid arteries
- For the placement of a stent, which is a mesh tube inserted in your artery to improve blood flow there
- The effectiveness of the stent during follow-up visits
A carotid ultrasound often is used in conjunction with other heart monitoring procedures to come to a definitive diagnosis. You may also undergo:
- MRI or CT scan, X-rays that can show evidence of a previous stroke
- Angiography, which relies on an injected dye to highlight carotid artery abnormalities
Looking for Answers
As part of a routine examination, you may be given a carotid artery Doppler if you have any of the typical risk factors for coronary heart disease. The test can catch signs of plaque build-up early enough for you to use medications and make significant lifestyle changes to reverse the process. Plaque is made up of excess cholesterol, fat and calcium that accumulates due to poor diet and lack of exercise. Persistent stress also damages blood vessels, and that damage may be visible on the ultrasound, potentially helping you avoid a stroke.
Additionally, early intervention with a carotid ultrasound can help your doctor decide which treatments suit you best for a variety of other conditions, such as:
- Abnormal sounds picked up on a stethoscope
- Family history of carotid artery disease
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Previous stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA)
- Coronary artery disease
- Obesity, inactivity, or smoking
A Doppler test on your carotid arteries also can help determine your vascular age — or the extent of carotid atherosclerotic vascular disease present in the artery. Called a CIMT, or carotid intima-media thickness test, the ultrasound results can have a significant impact in early detection of atherosclerotic vascular disease, a big contributor to heart disease and stroke.
Prevention Is the Key
Since the sonographic technology has no side effects and uses no radiation to achieve the clear, real-time results, a carotid artery Doppler test is one of the most beneficial preventive procedures you can undergo. Unchecked and untreated, carotid artery disease can lead to serious complications, not the least of which is a stroke.
According to the Mayo Clinic, carotid artery disease leads to 10 to 20 percent of all strokes in the United States. With more than 800,000 strokes in the country every year, having the ultrasound Doppler test can save your life. A stroke can be fatal or leave you with permanent brain damage. The role of the carotid artery in strokes plays out in a number of different ways, including:
- Blockage due to a blood clot. The plaque build-up that shows up on the sonographer’s screen after a Doppler test sometimes breaks off into small pieces. In response to the tiny injury, your body sends blood rushing to the area to heal the irregularity. Clotting begins and slows down or stops the flow of blood to your brain.
- Blood flow restricted completely or reduced to a trickle. When plaque becomes so built-up in the carotid arteries, the blood vessels actually can become too narrow to allow a natural flow of blood. Early detection is vital to reverse this process.
- Plaque pieces can break off and enter your blood stream, bringing the hard substance to smaller arteries in your brain. If those become clogged due to the presence of the plaque, you could have a stroke.
To schedule a carotid artery Doppler test for yourself or a loved one at NYC Cardiology, Manhattan Cardiovascular Associates, contact us.
Manhattan Cardiovascular Associates
Dr. Michael Ghalchi, Cardiologist (Cardiologist NYC, Midtown)
New York, NY 10010
(Between Madison Ave & Park Ave)
☎ (212) 686-0066