The carotid arteries can be seen easily by non-invasive ultrasound scanning, which is a good method for detecting the presence of plaque and for calculating the degree of narrowing. Treatment of the narrowing by surgical removal of plaque or by stent implantation may be recommended if it is severe, especially if there are associated symptoms, to reduce the risk of stroke.
The presence of even a minor degree of plaque in the carotid arteries is a useful indicator of the probability of disease of the arteries elsewhere in the body, such as the heart, and can be used to estimate a person's risk of a heart attack.
No specific preparation is required and the test is completely painless. Cold gel is applied to the neck with the patient lying on his/her back. The ultrasound transducer is moved over the neck by the sonographer, and the scan is recorded. It is important to keep the head still during the scan, which takes 20 to 30 minutes to do.
A report on the study will be sent to the referring doctor, with any recommendations for further investigations as appropriate.