Carotid Artery Ultrasound

What is a Carotid Artery Ultrasound?

A carotid artery ultrasound is an examination of the carotid arteries (vessels in the neck that provide blood flow to the brain). It shows how much blood and the rate in which it travels through the arteries. Ultrasound waves provide an image of the arteries revealing abnormalities or blockages which could lead to stroke.

How is it performed?

You will be asked to lie down on an examination table. Your technician will place a clear ultrasound gel on the area of your neck where your carotid artery is located. The gel is a lubricant that allows the transducer (a device that both emits and detects ultrasound signals) to move around easily on your skin.

When the transducer is placed against the skin, an image of the artery appears on a video screen. To view the arteries from different angles, your technician will re-position the transducer. Because blood is flowing through your arteries, a sound similiar to your heartbeat will be heard. The procedure is then repeated on the other side of the neck. This test is completely painless and will take approximately 7-9 minutes.

How does it work?

The transducer emits high-frequency ultrasound waves that pass into the body and bounce off of the carotid arteries and the red blood cells moving through them. The sound waves are reflected differently by other parts of the body. The transducer detects the reflections, which are then measured and converted by a computer into live pictures of the arteries and blood flow.

Why do physicians use Carotid Artery Ultrasounds?

Physicians often use carotid artery ultrasound on patients who have had a stroke or who might be at risk for a stroke. Narrowing of the carotid arteries (often caused by cholesterol deposits) and blood clots can be detected using this procedure. Reduced blood flow to the brain may lead to stroke.  

Carotid artery screening can detect serious problems early before symptoms are present and when treatment is most successful. 

Learn more about Carotid Artery Disease & Stroke.