Our clinic is now offering Ultrasound services to augment the high quality of care we provide and to make it easier for our patients. Some ultrasound studies can be performed during your appointment so the need to travel elsewhere is eliminated. Some ultrasound studies may need a second appointment but will still be performed in our clinic.
What is carotid artery screening?
Screening examinations are tests performed to find disease before symptoms begin. The goal of screening is to detect disease at its earliest and most treatable stage. In order to be widely accepted and recommended by medical practitioners, a screening program must meet a number of criteria, including reducing the number of deaths from the given disease.
Screening tests may include laboratory tests to check blood and other fluids, genetic tests that look for inherited genetic markers linked to disease, and imaging tests that produce pictures of the inside of the body. These tests are typically available to the general population; however, an individual’s needs for a specific screening test are based on factors such as age, gender and family history.
In carotid artery screening, individuals who have no signs or symptoms of carotid artery disease undergo ultrasound (US) imaging of the carotid arteries, such as:
- carotid duplex ultrasound
- carotid intima media thickness (IMT) ultrasound.
Ultrasound imaging, also called ultrasound scanning or sonography or carotid duplex, is a safe and painless way to produce pictures of the inside of the body using sound waves. Conventional US involves the use of a small transducer (probe) to expose the body to high-frequency sound waves. Doppler ultrasound is a special ultrasound technique that evaluates blood flow — including both its speed and direction— through a blood vessel.
- Carotid duplex US uses a combination of conventional and Doppler ultrasound to:
- assess blood flow in the carotid arteries
- measure the speed of the blood flow
- estimate the diameter of a blood vessel and degree of obstruction, if present.
- Carotid intima media thickness (IMT) US uses ultrasound pictures of the carotid arteries to measure the thickness of the two innermost layers (the intima and media) of the carotid artery walls and to help identify plaque buildup. An abnormal thickening of the artery walls may signal the development of cardiovascular disease.
About Carotid Artery Disease
The carotid arteries are the two main arteries that carry oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the brain. These two blood vessels extend through each side of the neck.
Carotid artery disease occurs when plaque (a build-up of fat, cholesterol and other substances) collects and forms along the walls of the carotid arteries. This buildup of plaque and the injury it causes is called atherosclerosis. Over time, the walls of affected arteries thicken and become stiff and the blood vessel may also become narrowed (a condition called stenosis), limiting blood flow.
Left untreated, carotid artery disease increases the risk for stroke. A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is obstructed by plaque or blood clots, when bits of plaque break free and travel to smaller arteries in the brain, or when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures. A lack of oxygen and other essential nutrients may cause permanent damage to the brain or death.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States and a leading cause of long-term severe disability.
Anything that increases an individual’s chances of developing disease is called a risk factor. Risk factors for carotid artery disease include:
- high blood pressure
- tobacco smoking
- high cholesterol
- coronary artery disease (CAD)
- physical inactivity
- family history of atherosclerosis and/or stroke