An ultrasound of the body’s two carotid arteries, which are located on each side of the neck and carry blood from the heart to the brain, provides detailed pictures of these blood vessels and information about the blood flowing through them. A Doppler ultrasound study is usually an integral part of a carotid ultrasound examination.

The carotid ultrasound is most frequently performed to detect narrowing, or stenosis, of the carotid artery, a condition that substantially increases the risk of stroke.

The major goal of carotid ultrasound is to screen patients for blockage or narrowing of their carotid arteries, which if present may increase their risk of having a stroke. If a significant narrowing is detected, a comprehensive treatment may be initiated.

It may also be performed if a patient has high blood pressure or a carotid bruit — an abnormal sound in the neck that is heard with the stethoscope. In some cases, it is also performed in preparation for coronary artery bypass surgery. Other risk factors calling for a carotid ultrasound are:

  • diabetes
  • elevated blood cholesterol
  • a family history of stroke or heart disease

A carotid ultrasound is also performed to:

  • locate a hematoma, a collection of clotted blood that may slow and eventually stop blood flow.
  • check the state of the carotid artery after surgery to restore normal blood flow.
  • verify the position of a metal stent placed to maintain carotid blood flow.