How is carotid artery disease diagnosed?

When your doctor suspects that you have a significant degree of stenosis in your carotid arteries, she or he will examine you and conduct tests including:

  • Duplex ultrasound cerebral angiogram
  • Magnetic resonance angiogram (MRA)
  • Computed tomography angiogram (CTA)

Physicians have a number of techniques available to them for diagnosing carotid artery disease. Your doctor will first take your medical history, nothing risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or a family history of carotid artery disease. At this time, your physician will also make note of any previous signs of carotid artery disease, such as strokes or transient ischemic attacks (“mini-strokes”).

Your physician will then give you a physical exam. As part of this exam, your doctor may hold a stethoscope over the carotid arteries on either side of your neck and ask you to hold your breath. If your doctor hears a whooshing sound, called a bruit, you may have narrowing of the carotid arteries. This test predicts narrowing of the arteries better than it does impending stroke, and is used as a starting point for diagnosis, rather than confirmation of a diagnosis.

Discovery of a bruit or other indicators may then prompt your physician to refer you for diagnostic tests such as carotid ultrasound, computed tomography (CT) angiography, magnetic resonance angiography (MRA), or cerebral angiography.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.