Preventing a heart attack is a lot easier when you -- and your doctor -- know exactly what's going on in the vessels that carry blood throughout your body. Are they blocked with plaque or free-flowing? To find out, your doctor may recommend a high-tech imaging test that shows a clear image of your arteries. Here's what you need to know about them.
For this painless test, an ultrasound technician uses a handheld wand on the outside of your neck. The wand makes sound waves that bounce off the tissue inside the carotid artery in your neck to create images.
The test can detect blockages that can lead to stroke. It determines how narrowed your artery is by combining the images with measurements of how fast blood is flowing.
Who should get it? If your doctor suspects you've had a stroke or mini stroke (if you've had a loss of vision, for example), you're definitely a candidate for this test, says cardiologist Mark F. Sasse, MD. He's an associate professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine. If you have a blockage greater than 50%, your doctor may recommend yearly carotid ultrasound testing.
If you haven't had any previous stroke symptoms, your doctor would check you with a stethoscope first. He'll listen to the blood moving through your carotid artery. If he hears a "bruit," a noise related to uneven blood flow, then he might recommend a carotid ultrasound.
Some doctors recommend a carotid ultrasound if you have two or more of these risk factors: