Warning Symptoms To Get a Carotid Artery Scan


A carotid artery scan is a non-invasive and safe procedure to check the carotid artery's health. It’s a reliable tool in the form of an ultrasound that uses sound waves to visualize the interior of a carotid artery. 

Doppler ultrasound technique is most commonly used to test the blood flow in the arteries. Also known as the carotid duplex, spectral doppler ultrasound of the carotid artery provides authentic information regarding blood flow and the presence of stenosis in the artery.

The presence of plaques and other anomalies that impede blood flow are also analyzed using carotid imaging. Research shows that carotid ultrasound (3-dimensional scan) is an effective and accurate way of monitoring the thickening of the artery/narrowing of the artery lumen, i.e., atherosclerosis. It can also help determine the type of plaque and aid in checking the vulnerability of the plaque to break off.

CT scans, magnetic resonance angiograms, and carotid angiograms are also available to diagnose carotid artery anomalies. However, doppler ultrasound is safer, cheaper, and more effective when compared with computed tomographic angiography (CT-Angio) and magnetic resonance angiography (MR Angio).

What Is the Carotid Artery?

The carotid arteries (one on each side of the body) are vital vessels that carry blood from the heart to the brain. Carotid arteries from both sides are responsible for supplying blood to the brain and the head/face region.

You can find the carotid arteries divide in the neck region. Left and right carotid arteries branch off to give internal and external carotid arteries in the neck region. The internal carotid artery provides nutrients to the brain, while the external carotid artery keeps the face and neck nourished.

A carotid bulb or sinus is also present at the bifurcation point of the main carotid artery. This widening of the carotid artery aids in regulating blood pressure. The stretch receptors (baroreceptors) in the sinus help control the pressure of the flowing blood.

Disorders of the Carotid Artery

As the carotid artery supplies the brain with nutrients and blood, anomalies have serious consequences. The most common disorders of the carotid artery include:

Carotid Artery Disease

The carotid artery can be narrowed (stenosed) due to excessive accumulation of plaque in the artery walls, a condition called atherosclerosis. In a large number of cases, high levels of cholesterol in the blood lead to the deposition of the fatty chemical into the vessels.

The plaque deposits in the artery and breaks free, leading to the formation of blood clots. These blood clots (emboli) can block the blood supply to the brain and cause havoc. Thus, any hindrance to the flow of blood in the carotid artery is carotid artery disease.

Carotid artery aneurysms may also cause a disturbance in the blood flow.

Ischemic Stroke

As in carotid artery disease, the narrowing of the artery can lead to ischemic stroke or a similar condition, i.e., transient ischemic attack (temporary blockage of blood). Stroke refers to a lack of oxygen (hypoxia) in the brain that causes brain cell death. This cell death is attributed to blockage of the carotid artery.

Warning Symptoms To Look Out For

Your doctor will determine what scan is ideal for your condition. But there are certain symptoms that you should be aware of. Certain warning symptoms point towards a carotid artery pathology. You must get a carotid artery scan if experiencing any of these symptoms:

Weakness or Numbness on One Side of the Body

The sudden onset of muscle weakness affecting only one side of the body must ring some bells. A numb feeling on the face or the limbs (arms and legs) on one side of the body must not be ignored. It can potentially present as a transient ischemic attack and calls for immediate action.

Carotid artery stenosis patients usually present with an acute (sudden) onset of leg weakness, followed by weakness in the arm of the same side. In most cases, scanning reveals evident carotid artery stenosis. Numbness and weakness indicate an episode of transient ischemic attack (TIA) or stroke.

Studies show that ischemic stroke's upper limb weakness is a characteristic of carotid artery stenosis. Individuals experiencing numbness/weakness must get a carotid artery scan as soon as possible because the risk of recurrent stroke is higher in carotid artery stenosis patients.

Vision Issues

Having blurred vision might also indicate an underlying carotid artery pathology. Carotid artery issues can cause sudden vision impairment in one or both eyes. Temporary or transient loss of vision is frequently linked to carotid artery (internal) stenosis. Thus, you should consider getting a carotid artery scan if experiencing acute vision problems.

Trouble Swallowing

Patients having trouble swallowing (without any evident reason) might consider getting a carotid artery scan. Trouble in swallowing should not be neglected.

Psychological Problems

Problems in understanding and speaking also call for a carotid artery scan. As the carotid artery supplies blood to the brain, cognition issues and memory loss can indicate impeded blood flow to the brain.

Dizziness and Syncope

Feeling dizziness before losing consciousness (syncope) can be a symptom of carotid artery disease. Researchers are divided over whether presyncope dizziness calls for carotid artery scanning or not. The symptom is more likely related to carotid artery stenosis if other symptoms (speech problem, weakness, etc.) are experienced along with it.

Some patients also complain of persistent, unexplained headaches. A carotid scan is crucial if you are suffering from unexplained headaches.

Results After the Scan

The condition of the carotid artery is analyzed in percentage (out of 100). A 100% result means your carotid arteries are perfectly alright, and there is no stenosis or narrowing.

Lower than 100% results mean a presence of atherosclerosis and plaque build-up. In general, blockages lesser than 60% in patients with stroke or TIA are managed with dietary and lifestyle modifications. Blockages greater than that may require intervention such as carotid endarterectomy to remove the deposited plaque.

Get Help From a Vascular Physician

Vascular physicians are doctors who specialize in treating diseases of the vessels (vascular system). The carotid artery is an essential vessel that needs to be assessed and treated by a highly trained, qualified vascular physician. If you encounter any warning symptoms, you must not delay a visit to a vascular physician for a carotid artery scan.

Back to Main   |  Share