Carotid Ultrasound

Ultrasound can be used to determine whether there are narrowings in the carotid arteries, which supply blood and oxygen to the brain. This is a straightforward outpatient scan which takes 20 to 30 minutes; the patient lies on a couch and an ultrasound probe is placed on the skin overlying the carotid arteries in the neck. The arteries lie on either side of the windpipe and can be clearly visualised in most patients. Narrowing in the carotid arteries increases the risk of stroke and TIA (mini-stroke), and narrowings in other arteries, such as the coronary arteries, frequently co-exist.

More recently it has been appreciated that subtle and early changes in the inner lining of the arteries, such as an increased thickness of the “intima and media”, are associated with an increased risk of stroke and heart attack. As such carotid ultrasound has become a useful, safe and radiation-free method of detecting early vascular disease in seemingly well individuals; this scan is often performed in conjunction with a CT coronary angiogram, which looks for evidence of disease in the coronary arteries. If early disease is detected, treatments are available that can reduce the risk of future problems, such as statins, which lower cholesterol and may stabilise the disease process.

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