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What is a carotid ultrasound?

A carotid ultrasound is a painless, non-invasive, non-radioactive test that can determine if your carotid arteries are narrowed. Your carotid arteries run on either side of the neck. Narrowed carotid arteries can increase your risk of stroke. These arteries can become narrow from fat, cholesterol, calcium, or other substances. Here’s what you need to know about carotid ultrasound.

Who should have a carotid ultrasound?

Your doctor may recommend a carotid ultrasound if you have health problems that could put you at high risk for a stroke, such as:

  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Family history of stroke or heart disease
  • Recent transient ischemic attack (TIA) or stroke
  • Abnormal sound in carotid arteries detected by your doctor using a stethoscope
  • Coronary artery disease

How should I prepare for a carotid ultrasound?

A carotid ultrasound is a very simple, quick scan on the arteries in the neck. You will not need to do anything special to prepare for a carotid ultrasound, except for maybe not wearing a shirt that is tight against the neck or dangling earrings. The scan is completely painless and does not use radiation.

What should I expect during a carotid ultrasound?

During a carotid ultrasound, your technician will most likely have you lie down, and apply warm gel to the area around your carotid arteries. Then they will use a small device called a  transducer that emits sound waves to gently examine the arteries. You shouldn’t feel any pain or discomfort during the procedure. You should be able resume your normal activities right away.

How can I reduce my risk of stroke?

Harvard Medical School states that, “You can do more than you think to avoid a fatal or debilitating ‘brain attack.’ Strokes don’t usually come out of the blue. Some things you can’t do much about, like age and family history of stroke. But even when an underlying medical condition puts you at risk, you might be able to do something about it. Stroke is potentially one of the most devastating illnesses that we see, and it’s especially tragic when simply taking good care of one’s blood pressure or some other preventive measure might have averted it,” says Thomas Lee, MD, co-editor in chief of the Harvard Heart Letter.”

Some very simple ways to reduce your risk of stroke include:

  • Losing weight
  • Getting your blood pressure under control
  • Exercise regularly
  • Reduce your alcohol consumption
  • Reduce your consumption of salt (sodium)
  • Eat a healthy, plant-based diet

Taking control of your health is easier than you think. Start today!