Ultrasound scan of your carotid arteries

What is a carotid ultrasound scan?

A carotid ultrasound scan may also be called a carotid duplex or carotid Doppler. This test uses ultrasound to produce images of the main arteries in the neck which carry blood to the eyes and brain. It is a safe and effective way to assess the blood flow, and can determine whether there are any narrowing’s or blockages in the arteries. The test is painless and does not use any radiation or needles. There are no risks associated with this test. The test can take up to 30 minutes.

right carotid artery in the head and neck
Figure A shows the location of the right carotid artery in the head and neck. Figure B is a cross-section of a normal carotid artery that has normal blood flow. Figure C shows a carotid artery that has plaque buildup and reduced blood flow.

Where do I go?

The Vascular Studies Unit (VSU) is on level 5 of the Addenbrooke’s Treatment Centre (ATC). Please inform reception of your arrival straight away. There are often other clinics in progress so you may not be called in order of arrival. You may bring a relative or friend in with you during the test or request a chaperone if you would like one.

What is consent?

Before your test is performed you must give your consent or permission. Consent is the process by which you give permission to health professionals to provide your care and treatment. It may be implied (offering your arm for a blood pressure reading) or formal (signing a formal consent form for an operation). In either case your consent must be given voluntarily and you must have all the information you need to make a decision. If you feel you do not have enough information or do not understand the procedure please ask.

How is a carotid ultrasound scan performed?

There is no preparation needed and you may eat and drink as usual prior to the test. You do not have to remove your hearing aid or glasses but it may be helpful to remove any other accessories/clothing so your neck is accessible. A clinical vascular scientist (who might be male or female) will perform and interpret your ultrasound scan. You will be asked to lie on a couch with your head on a pillow. The lights will be dimmed to allow the best images to be obtained. Gel will be applied to your neck and the scientist will move the ultrasound probe up and down your neck to view the length of the carotid arteries. During the test, you may hear some “swooshing” noises from the ultrasound machine. These sounds are normal.

What happens next?

The clinical vascular scientist can comment briefly on the findings and will write a report for who requested the test. You will be able to discuss the results of this investigation fully with the referring team at your next outpatient appointment. In rare cases, the clinical vascular scientist may need to discuss the result with a doctor before you leave.