Carotid Doppler Sonogram

Carotid Doppler

A Carotid Doppler Ultrasound, sometimes called a Carotid Ultrasound, examines the blood flow in the main arteries of the neck, which transport blood and oxygen to the brain.

Several Common Indications for the Exam:

  • Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIA or “mini-stroke”)
  • Numbness/Weakness in arm or face
  • Neck Bruit (heard with a stethoscope)
  • Dizziness/loss of balance
  • Visual disturbance in one eye

How to prepare for your exam. Read More →

Carotid Ultrasound:
An In-Depth Guide to the Procedure, Benefits, and Results

Carotid ultrasound, a non-invasive and painless diagnostic procedure, has become an essential tool for healthcare professionals to assess the health of carotid arteries and identify potential risks for stroke. As a patient of Advanced Sonograms of Alaska, understanding this procedure is crucial for your overall health and well-being. This comprehensive guide will provide you with an in-depth understanding of carotid ultrasound, its benefits, and what to expect from the results.

What is a Carotid Ultrasound and Why is it Important?

A carotid ultrasound, also known as a carotid duplex, employs sound waves to generate images of the carotid arteries' interiors. These arteries, located on either side of the neck, are responsible for transporting blood to the brain. By utilizing the Doppler ultrasound technique, healthcare professionals can evaluate blood flow within the carotid arteries and identify any issues that may impede it.

The procedure is essential for detecting blood clots or plaque (fatty deposits comprising cholesterol) that could obstruct blood flow to the brain, face, and neck, potentially leading to a stroke. Identifying these issues early on can lead to timely intervention and prevent life-threatening complications.

Indications for a Carotid Ultrasound

Healthcare providers may recommend a carotid ultrasound for various reasons, including:

  • Monitoring post-surgical changes to a previously narrowed artery.
  • Assessing the condition of a stent within the carotid artery.
  • Periodic evaluations of a previously identified narrow artery.
  • Detecting an unusual sound (bruit) in the artery using a stethoscope.
  • Evaluating patients with high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol levels.
  • Diagnosing stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA) incidents.
  • Pre-operative assessment for coronary artery bypass surgery.
  • Evaluating patients with diabetes.
  • Screening for a family history of stroke or heart disease.
  • Identifying a hematoma (localized pooling of blood) in the neck.

With a carotid ultrasound, healthcare providers can examine blood flow, detect narrowing or blockage in the artery, and identify any congenital malformations or tumors.

Understanding the Carotid Ultrasound Procedure

How Does it Work?

Carotid ultrasound employs sound waves rather than radiation to create images of the carotid arteries' interiors. A transducer, a small device placed on the skin, sends sound waves into the body and receives the reflected waves. A computer then processes this information and displays the images on a monitor. The sonographer can record videos or take snapshots of the scans for further analysis.

Preparing for the Test

No specific preparation is necessary for a carotid ultrasound. However, it is advisable to wear comfortable clothing that does not restrict the neck. Avoid wearing necklaces or earrings that may obstruct the examination area. The test usually takes 30 - 45 minutes.

Risks and Side-Effects

Carotid ultrasound is a safe procedure with no associated risks. Patients may experience pressure, but not pain, as the transducer presses against the neck.

Interpreting Carotid Ultrasound Results and Follow-Up

Types of Results and Their Implications

Healthcare providers will receive results indicating the degree of blockage within the carotid arteries, expressed as a percentage. Normal results signify that the carotid arteries are unobstructed. Abnormal results may indicate atherosclerosis, blood clots, or other issues narrowing the artery and increasing the risk of stroke.

In cases of mild to moderate plaque buildup (less than 50% blockage with stroke or TIA symptoms, or less than 60% without symptoms), healthcare providers may recommend lifestyle changes, such as improving diet, increasing exercise, and quitting tobacco use.

    For more severe blockages (at least 50% with stroke or TIA symptoms or 60% without symptoms), healthcare providers may suggest a carotid endarterectomy to remove the plaque. The carotid ultrasound results can help plan this procedure by locating the blockage. Alternatively, angioplasty can be employed to compress plaque deposits against artery walls, increasing blood flow. 

    Stroke Risk Factors

    Other factors that can influence a healthcare provider's treatment recommendations include additional stroke risk factors, such as:

    • High blood pressure.
    • High cholesterol.
    • Diabetes.
    • Peripheral artery disease (PAD).
    • Atrial fibrillation.
    • Sickle cell disease.
    • Obesity.
    • Heart disease.

    Lifestyle factors, such as tobacco use, high-fat and high-salt diets, and physical inactivity, can also increase stroke risk.

    A Note from Advanced Sonograms of Alaska

    A carotid ultrasound is a simple, painless procedure that can help identify potential issues with your carotid arteries. By understanding the test and its importance, you can take control of your health and work with your healthcare provider to implement any necessary lifestyle changes or treatments.