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What is a carotid ultrasound?

A carotid ultrasound is a noninvasive, painless screening test. Your doctor uses an ultrasound to look at the carotid arteries in your neck and see the flow of blood through them. Ultrasound, also called sonography, uses sound waves instead of X-rays to make images. A carotid ultrasound is an important test that can detect narrowing, or stenosis of the carotid arteries. Carotid artery stenosis is a major risk factor for stroke. 

You have two carotid arteries, one on each side of your neck. Carotid arteries are major arteries that carry blood from your heart to your brain. A buildup of plaque can narrow or block your carotid arteries. This is called carotid artery disease, which increases your risk of stroke.

A carotid ultrasound is only one method used to screen for carotid artery disease. Discuss all your testing options with your doctor to understand which options are right for you.  

Types of carotid ultrasounds

A carotid ultrasound typically includes two types of ultrasound:

  • Doppler carotid ultrasound makes images of the flow of blood through your carotid arteries.

  • Standard carotid ultrasound makes images of the structure of your carotid arteries.

Medical Reviewers: Daphne E. Hemmings, MD, MPH Last Review Date: Jul 11, 2013

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Medical References

  1. Carotid Ultrasound. The Internet Stroke Center. http://www.strokecenter.org/patients/diagnosis/ultrasound.htm
  2. Carotid Ultrasound Imaging. American College of Radiology. http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=us-carotid
  3. Explore Carotid Ultrasound. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/cu/cu_whatis.html

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