The Carotid Arteries are major vessels that supply oxygenated and nutrient filled blood to the head and neck regions of the body. These vessels are essential to the circulatory health and wellbeing of the brain. Ultrasound of the Carotid arteries involves evaluating the common carotid artery, the internal and external carotid arteries as well as the vertebral artery.
Carotid ultrasounds are done routinely as part of a health screening and pre-operative evaluations. Plaque or cholesterol build-up within the arteries is the major concern physicians and patients have, which prompts evaluation. If you are a smoker or have a history of high cholesterol levels, you may be more prone to producing plaque in the carotid vessels. Often as part of a pre-operative workup, your physician will require a carotid ultrasound be performed. This is to ensure there is adequate blood flow to the brain and minimize the risk for stroke during an operation.
Some of the symptoms patients experience that might trigger a carotid ultrasound order from your physician are: TIA (transient ischemic attacks or mini strokes), a CVA (cerebrovascular accident or “stroke”), vision changes (blurry, spotty or darkened), family history of carotid disease, personal high risk factors, diabetes, smoking history, high cholesterol levels etc.
The common carotid artery is the main stalk of the carotid system and it originates off the aortic arch or innominate artery. The common carotid artery then splits (bifurcates) into two different branches: Internal carotid artery and the External carotid artery.
The Internal carotid artery (ICA) is the main vessel the courses from the mid neck up beyond the level of the chin into the skull. The internal carotid artery supplies the bulk of the blood flow to the hemispheres of the brain and eyes via branches within the skull. Ultrasound can visualize quite a segment of the ICA up to the margin of the jawline. Above the skull line, CT or MRI is needed to evaluate the ICA.
The External carotid artery (ECA) is a vessel that has many branches and helps provide oxygenated blood supply to the throat, neck glands, tongue, face, mouth, ear, scalp and dura mater of the meninges (part of the brain).
The Vertebral artery supplies blood flow to the posterior or back of the brain. This vessel communicates with the other essential vessels inside the skull.
This type of Diagnostic ultrasound requires a physician or provider order prior to performing exam.
There is no specific prep in order to have a Carotid Doppler Ultrasound performed. We do ask, however, if you are a smoker; please refrain from smoking 1 hour prior to having your Ultrasound performed. This is not mandatory, however, is desirable.
It would be helpful if you wear clothing with a loose fitting collar or no collar to allow for better access of your neck. If you prefer, you can choose to wear a patient gown to avoid your clothing possibly getting ultrasound gel on it.
A carotid ultrasound is performed with the patient lying on their back on the exam table. You may need to have the pillow removed from your head if the carotid vessels are difficult to be seen. Once comfortable, the sonographer will drape your neck with a towel. Ultrasound gel will be placed on one side of your neck and images are obtained by the sonographer using light touch with the hand held ultrasound imaging probe. This probe will gently maneuver up and down your neck.
A Carotid ultrasound requires visualization of the blood vessel with and without Doppler. This means that there will be portions of the ultrasound exam that are quiet while the sonographer takes images of the vessel anatomy. Then when using Doppler in the vessel, there will be an audible noise or heartbeat sound that occurs when evaluating the blood flow.
Because evaluation of the carotid arteries requires scanning both the right and left sides of the neck, the sonographer may ask you to refrain from speaking or chewing to allow for better visualization during the exam.
All of the images from your ultrasound will then be sent to a Radiologist (interpreting physician) for a report to be generated for your referring physician. You will receive the results of your Ultrasound from your referring physician or the provider who ordered this ultrasound to be performed. Please refer back to the physician's office who sent you to obtain results of your ultrasound exams.
This ultrasound is performed by a credentialed sonographer and held by ARDMS standards of ultrasound in medicine.