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How Is Carotid Artery Disease Diagnosed?

Your doctor will diagnose carotid artery disease based on your medical history, a physical exam, and test results.

Medical History

Your doctor will find out whether you have any of the major risk factors for carotid artery disease. They also will ask whether you've had any signs or symptoms of a mini-stroke or stroke.

Physical Exam

To check your carotid arteries, your doctor will listen to them with a stethoscope. They will listen for a whooshing sound called a bruit. This sound may indicate changed or reduced blood flow due to plaque buildup. To find out more, your doctor may recommend tests.

Diagnostic Tests

The following tests are common for diagnosing carotid artery disease. If you have symptoms of a mini-stroke or stroke, your doctor may use other tests as well.

Carotid Ultrasound

Carotid ultrasound (also called sonography) is the most common test for diagnosing carotid artery disease. It's a painless, harmless test that uses sound waves to create pictures of the insides of your carotid arteries. This test can show whether plaque has narrowed your carotid arteries and how narrow they are.

A standard carotid ultrasound shows the structure of your carotid arteries. A Doppler carotid ultrasound shows how blood moves through your carotid arteries.

Carotid Angiography

Carotid angiography is a special type of x-ray. This test may be used if the ultrasound results are unclear or don't give your doctor enough information.

For this test, your doctor will inject a substance (called contrast dye) into a vein, most often in your leg. The dye travels to your carotid arteries and highlights them on x-ray pictures.

Magnetic Resonance Angiography

Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) uses a large magnet and radio waves to take pictures of your carotid arteries. Your doctor can see these pictures on a computer screen.

For this test, your doctor may give you contrast dye to highlight your carotid arteries on the pictures.

Computed Tomography Angiography

Computed tomography angiography, or CT angiography, takes x-ray pictures of the body from many angles. A computer combines the pictures into two- and three-dimensional images.

For this test, your doctor may give you contrast dye to highlight your carotid arteries on the pictures.

Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Why The Heart Hospital?

Cardiac and vascular imaging specialists on the medical staff of The Heart Hospital Baylor use advanced technologies to diagnose and manage a wide range of cardiac and vascular disorders. Through noninvasive imaging, your physician can see how effectively your heart is pumping or blood is circulating through your arteries and body. Preventive screening and heart test, such as carotid ultrasound, allow us to track how you're doing and make a diagnosis.

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