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Carotid Artery Scan >> Ultrasound

How common is stroke?

Every 45 seconds, someone suffers a stroke in the United States. It is the third leading cause of death behind heart disease and cancer. As our population ages, more individuals will be at risk for suffering a stroke. A number of strokes are due to blockages in the vessels that supply blood to the brain. These blood vessels are known as the carotid arteries. For this reason, control of blood pressure and surveillance for carotid artery narrowing is an effective means of preventing a stroke.

Why does the carotid artery get blocked?

A stroke results from the interruption blood flow to the brain. The most common cause of this interruption is narrowing or blockage of the carotid artery. This blockage typically is due to accumulation of atherosclerotic plaque in the vessels. The two carotid arteries are the major suppler of blood to the brain and obstruction of this blood flow can lead t stroke. Blockage of the carotid arteries is the major cause of stroke in the United States. The blockage of the carotid arteries typically occurs in the neck where the carotid artery divides. Plaque from the carotid arteries can break off and cause mini strokes.

What tests can be done to screen for carotid artery disease?

There are a couple of tests which can screen for disease in the carotid artery and they include an angiogram, MRI or Ultrasound. By far, Ultrasound is the most common test to assess the carotid artery. It is a safe, sensitive and cheap test. Its sensitivity rivals any of the other tests. The test simple assess the degree of blood flow in the carotid arteries.

How is the test done?

After lying down on a bed, the neck area is exposed and a gel is applied on the skin. A small probe is then placed over the neck and the carotid artery is visualized and imaged. The probe also monitors the velocity of blood flow through the carotids artery. The degree of stenosis can be accurately measured with this technique. The process is then repeated on the other side of the neck. Generally, the test takes about one hour.

Is the test painful?

Ultrasound of the carotids is a painless study. It has no discomfort, except for the application of the gel, which needs to be wiped out at the end of the study.

Is ultrasound safe?

Ultrasound is non invasive, does not require any sedation; there is no use of dyes or radiation. The study is risk free.

What preparation is needed?

Generally, no preparation is needed prior to the study.  One does not require any sedation and one can eat on the morning of the test. You will be asked to remove any jewelry from around the neck and wear a loose fitting, open necked shirt or blouse.

Who performs the tests?

These tests are performed by certified technologists.  These technologists have credentialing by the national accrediting organization.  

Who reads the tests?

The tests are always read by a radiologist who has extra training the field of ultrasound.

When can I get the results?

If prior arrangements have been made with the radiologist, the results may be available within 30-60 minutes after the test.

What happens if an abnormality is identified in the carotids?

It depends on the degree of blockage. If the narrowing is less than 60%, the individual will be asked to take aspirin. If the narrowing is more than 70%, then the patient may be referred for stenting/surgery.

Is it expensive?

Ultrasound studies are significantly lower in cost than CT scan or MRI.  Most insurance companies cover ultrasound screening tests.

By Staff
April 18, 2007

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