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Ask ADC: Carotid ultrasound

Patient lying down next to tech

ADC performs carotid ultrasounds in the Cardiology office.

A stroke happens every 45 seconds in the United States, according to statistics. It happens when a blood vessel in the brain bursts or clogs.

Everyone is at risk for stroke, no matter your age, race or gender, but having certain risk factors can increase your chances of having a stroke, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

Your doctor has a number of tools to find blood flow problems in your arteries that could lead to stroke. One of those tests is a carotid ultrasound.

What is a carotid ultrasound?

A carotid ultrasound is a painless test used to look for blockages and blood flow problems in the arteries.

It’s usually the first imaging test used to diagnose carotid artery disease, a condition caused by the build up of plaque in the arteries that can block blood vessels and lead to stroke.

How does a carotid ultrasound work?

A carotid ultrasound uses sound waves to listen to the carotid arteries in the neck. The sound waves bounce back to create pictures of the insides of the arteries, which are located on either side of the neck. The procedure can be done in the cardiologist’s office and takes no more than 30 minutes. During the procedure, a technician will put gel on your neck where the carotid arteries are located, then place a probe lightly against the gel and move it back and forth.

What is carotid artery disease?

Carotid artery disease is a build up of plaque inside the carotid arteries. It can lead to stroke , which happens if blood flow is cut off to your brain. Stroke can cause lasting brain damage, long-term disability, such as vision, speech or paralysis, or even death.

Carotid artery disease may not cause any symptoms until the arteries are severely narrowed. In fact, for some people the first sign of the disease is a stroke.

Who needs a carotid ultrasound?

Your doctor may recommend a carotid ultrasound if you

  • Smoke
  • Have diabetes
  • Are elderly
  • Have a known history of heart disease or stroke

How do I reduce my risk for carotid artery disease and stroke?

You can reduce your risk for carotid artery disease and stroke by adopting a healthy lifestyle.

  • Healthy diet
    Good nutrition is key to protecting your blood vessels from disease. It should include a wide variety of vegetables, fruits and whole grains. You should also eat lean proteins, such as poultry, fish and fat-free or low-fat dairy. Your diet should be low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium and added sugar.
  • Exercise
    If you are not already active, you should add physical activity to your routine. Your doctor can advise you on what types of activities are safe.
  • Stop smoking
    Smoking can damage and tighten blood vessels, so quitting is important to reduce your risk for carotid artery disease, stroke, and many other diseases. You also need to avoid secondhand smoke.

It’s also important to talk to your doctor about your health history and your family’s health history, so you and your doctor can develop a plan to manage risk factors and prevent disease. Your doctor may recommend medications to manage high blood pressure and cholesterol if lifestyle changes aren’t enough to control your risk factors.

Additional Resources

American Stroke Association
Carotid Artery Disease