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.
During a carotid artery screening, the thickness of the intima-media is measured. Studies have shown that the thickness of the artery can show the patients risk of cardiovascular disease. If caught early, changes in lifestyle and medication can decrease this risk by decreasing the thickness of the artery.
According to the Society for Vascular Medicine guidelines, carotid duplex US may be beneficial for assessing stroke risk in individuals who are 55 years of age or older with cardiovascular risk factors such as a history of:
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
- known cardiovascular disease
Currently, an ultrasound carotid artery screening is not covered by health insurance. The fee for the exam is $300.
A written referral order for the ultrasound screening is required.