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Ultrasound for Neck (Carotid) Artery

Narrowing of the major artery in the neck, the carotid artery, is one the common reasons for a stroke. It tends to occur in older people and particularly with high blood cholesterol, obesity and cigarette smoking. If you are having symptoms like sudden dizziness, blackouts, blurring of the vision and momentary weakness one one side of the body that passes without any permanent problems then you may need a carotid ultrasound. These events are known as a TIA (transient ischemic attack). Eventually it can lead to a stroke if left untreated.

What is a carotid ultrasound?

A carotid ultrasound is a procedure in which the structure and function of the carotid artery is examined with the aid of ultrasound waves. The carotid arteries are located on either side of the neck and these arteries carry blood from the heart to the brain. A carotid artery ultrasound is done in patients with probable blockage or narrowing of the carotid artery which increases the risk of suffering from a stroke. The result of a carotid ultrasound helps the doctor to determine the kind of treatment the patient requires to reduce the risk of a brain stroke.

Reasons for Neck Artery Ultrasound

The main aim of a carotid ultrasound is to identify narrowing of the artery, if any and thereby deducing the risk of suffering from brain stroke in the future. The carotid is narrowed because of the accumulation of fatty material consisting mainly of cholesterol on the inner wall of the arteries. These accumulations are referred to as atherosclerotic plaques and the phenomenon is known atherosclerosis. With the help of the ultrasound scan, the presence of the atherosclerotic plaques on the inner lining of both the carotid arteries can be detected early.

A carotid artery ultrasound should be done in people with one or more of the following medical conditions:

  • Chronically raised blood pressure (hypertension) which does not respond well to treatment.
  • Uncontrolled diabetes melitus.
  • Raised cholesterol level in the blood.
  • Family history of brain stroke or heart disease like heart attack or coronary artery disease.
  • Recent episode of transient ischemic attack characterized by sudden blackout for few seconds after which patient regains consciousness or brain stroke.
  • Abnormal sound heard when the stethoscope is placed on the carotid arteries (bruit) due to obstruction in blood flow across the narrowed arteries.

A Doppler ultrasound helps in determining the amount of blood flow across the carotid arteries. This test is often used along with ultrasound examination of other body parts to detect the extent of deposition of fatty plaques on the inner wall of the important blood vessels of the body. A carotid ultrasound may also be used for evaluation of the carotid artery following :

  • plaque removal surgery.
  • placement of a stent inside the artery to keep the artery widened.

Procedure for Carotid Ultrasound

There are no special preparations required prior to carotid ultrasound unless the radiologist gives any special instructions. For better access to the site the patient is advised to wear a shirt with no collar or an open collar. The test is conducted by placing a transducer that emits sound waves over the carotid artery. The sound waves then bounces of the tissue and blood cells and creates an image on the computer screen. The readings for a Doppler ultrasound is translated into a graph. Usually it takes about 30 minutes to complete the entire procedure. There is no need for hospital admission or drugs.


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