Have Regular Check-Ups
Since there may not be any symptoms of carotid artery disease, it is important for you to have regular check-ups if you have risk factors. Your doctor will diagnose carotid artery disease based on your medical history and the results of a physical exam and tests.
To check out your carotid arteries, your doctor will listen to them with a stethoscope. He or she will listen for a whooshing sound called a bruit (pronounced BROO-ee). This sound may indicate reduced blood flow due to plaque, although bruits are not always present with blockages. Your doctor will also check your blood pressure.
If your doctor suspects you have carotid artery disease, he or she will order a carotid duplex ultrasound. This is the most common test for diagnosing carotid artery disease.
Carotid Duplex Ultrasound
This is a painless, harmless test that uses sound waves to create pictures of the insides of your carotid arteries. The test can show whether plaque has narrowed your carotid arteries and just how narrow they are.
If this test does not provide enough information to make a diagnosis, your doctor may order one more other tests. These may include:
CT Scan and CT Angiography (CTA)
These scans take x-ray pictures in the form of slices of the brain and arteries in your neck. CT scans can show areas of the brain that receive poor blood flow. Your doctor may inject a contrast dye to make blood vessels visible on the image in what is known as CTA.
Magnetic Resonance Angiography (MRA)
This test uses a large magnet and radio waves to take pictures of your carotid arteries. In some cases, MRA can provide information that cannot be obtained from other tests. It can provide information about the degree of blockage.
In this test, a catheter is inserted into a blood vessel in the arm or leg and guided to the carotid arteries with the aid of an imaging machine. Contrast dye is injected through the catheter while x-ray pictures are taken. This test may be used to confirm the narrowing or blockage in the carotid arteries, determine the risk of future stroke or evaluate the need for treatment.