What is Carotid Ultrasound Imaging?
Ultrasound imaging, also called ultrasound scanning or sonography, involves exposing part of the body to high-frequency sound waves to produce pictures of the inside of the body. Ultrasound exams do not use ionizing radiation (x-ray). Because ultrasound images are captured in real-time, they can show the structure and movement of the body's internal organs, as well as blood flowing through blood vessels.
Ultrasound imaging is usually a painless medical test that helps physicians diagnose and treat medical conditions.
An ultrasound of the body's two carotid arteries, which are located on each side of the neck and carry blood from the heart to the brain, provide detailed pictures of these blood vessels.
A Doppler ultrasound study may be part of a carotid ultrasound examination.
Doppler ultrasound is a special ultrasound technique that evaluates blood as it flows through a blood vessel, including the body's major arteries and veins in the abdomen, arms, legs and neck.
What are some common uses of the procedure?
The carotid ultrasound is most frequently performed to detect narrowing, or stenosis, of the carotid artery, a condition that substantially increases the risk of stroke.
It may also be performed if a patient has high blood pressure or a carotid bruit (pronounced brU-E)—an abnormal sound in the neck that is heard with the stethoscope. Other risk factors calling for a carotid ultrasound are:
- advanced age
- elevated blood cholesterol
- a family history of stroke or heart disease
A carotid ultrasound is also performed to:
- locate a hematoma, a collection of clotted blood that may slow and eventually stop blood flow
- detect dissection of the carotid artery, a split between layers of the artery wall that may lead to obstruction of blood flow or a weakening of the wall of the artery
- check the state of the carotid artery after surgery to restore normal blood flow
- verify the position of a metal stent placed to maintain carotid blood flow.
Doppler ultrasound images can help the physician to see and evaluate:
- blockages to blood flow (such as clots)
- narrowing of vessels (which may be caused by plaque)
- tumors and congenital malformation
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