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Carotid Ultrasound Scan

What does the carotid ultrasound scan look for?

The carotid ultrasound scan looks closely at the carotid and vertebral arteries. It is the job of these arteries to send blood to the brain and the eyes. Their health may be affected by blockages, narrowing, and growth.

Common carotid and vertebral health problems, for example, are stroke, mini-stroke, loss of sight in one eye, as well as sometimes unsteadiness or loss of balance.

This scan will take about 30 minutes. It is best to wear a loose top or shirt.

Sonographer Scanning Carotid Artery.Helps Prevent Stroke.
An Ultrasound Scan will Look at the Carotid and Vertebral Arteries.
Doctor Taking Male Patient's Blood Pressure. Arm is Resting on a Table. A Risk Factor for Stroke and Mini-stroke.

What are the risks of stroke or mini-stroke?

The two carotid arteries, on both sides of the neck, cause about 30% of strokes and mini-strokes. Small pieces of the diseased lining of the carotid artery (plaque or atherosclerosis) break off and cut off blood flow to an area of the brain and sometimes the eye.

Other stroke causes are bleeding within the brain, often from a ruptured brain aneurysm, as well as blockage of the small arteries within the brain.

Risk factors

  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Age – people over 60 years
  • Family history
    • Smoking
    • Diabetes
    • Age – people over 60 years
    • Family history

      What will the carotid ultrasound scan confirm?

      A carotid ultrasound scan will confirm the problem with the carotid and vertebral arteries.

      Mostly the problem is build up of artery disease within the carotid artery, also called carotid plaque or atherosclerosis. This build up may have cholesterol, calcium and often blood clot.

      Key questions answered by an ultrasound scan are, for example, what does the plaque look like, how narrowed is the artery and is it totally blocked?  This will inform further decisions on future care.

      In addition, sometimes other scans, like CT and MRI scans, will be needed, too


      Atherosclerosis Of The Carotid Artery. Coloured Ultrasound Scan Of The Carotid Arteries.
      One Question Answered by a Carotid Ultrasound Scan is the Artery Totally Blocked?

      And treatment for carotid artery disease?

      When there is carotid artery disease but it hasn’t caused problems, such as stroke or mini-stroke, treatment may be non-surgical. This will mean stopping smoking, as well as reducing other risk factors.


      If the carotid arteries have caused a stroke or mini-stroke, often an urgent operation called carotid endarterectomy is needed. This will mean a hospital stay of one to two days. This urgent operation uses local or general anaesthetic.