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Carotid Artery Duplex Scan

A duplex scan is essentially a specialized ultrasound diagnostic scan using two transducers (ultrasound generators) to both visualize the carotid arteries and to measure the speed and direction of the blood flowing through them.

The carotid arteries, of which we all have two, push blood from the heart to the brain (internal carotid artery) and face (external carotid artery). Understandably, any medical condition associated with the carotid arteries can cause swift and severe consequences. Some of the most common conditions associated with the carotid arteries include:

  • Arterial stenosis, where the artery is narrow and blood flow is limited, usually due to atherosclerosis – plaque buildup within the blood vessel
  • Aneurysm, which represents out pouching of the arterial wall due to weakness in the area. This can lead to rupture and increases the risk of stroke or serious bleeding
  • Stroke – if a fragment of clotted blood or plaque breaks off and travels to the brain, a stroke can occur

When Do I Need a Carotid Artery Duplex Scan?

If your cardiologist suspects that you may have a partial blockage in the carotid artery or if there is reason to believe that stenosis has occurred, a carotid artery duplex scan is one of the first diagnostic tests to be performed. By diagnosing arterial disease early, we reduce the risk of stroke and other major cardiovascular events significantly.

A duplex scan may also be used proactively to understand if a procedure performed on the carotid artery has been successful. It may also be used prior to a scheduled procedure to give your cardiologist more information about the blood vessel.

Symptoms of a blockage that may require a duplex scan

Heart disease is a very general term and conditions can manifest very differently between patients. Unfortunately, many patients do not realize they have a blockage until they experience a major cardiovascular event. However, there are certain symptoms and warning signs of existing or impending blockage within the carotid artery. These may include

  • Loss of vision in one eye or difficulty with speech
  • Headache
  • Drowsiness or tiredness
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness or vertigo like symptoms

Of course, the prevention of heart disease through improved lifestyle, including diet and exercise, is the best way to reduce the risk of arterial blockage.

Risks and Considerations of a Carotid Artery Duplex Scan

There is little to no risk during a duplex artery scan as no radiation is used and no part of the procedure is invasive. You will receive specific instructions on how to prepare for your scan from your cardiologist.

The usefulness of a carotid artery duplex scan varies between patients. Accurate results may be harder to achieve in patients suffering from significant excess weight or irregular heartbeat, known as arrhythmia.

Generally speaking, however, a duplex scan is very safe and very effective.

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