Tests and diagnosis

By Mayo Clinic Staff

In addition to taking a thorough medical history and recording risk factors and any signs or symptoms, your doctor may conduct or request several tests to evaluate the health of your carotid arteries:

  • Physical examination. Your doctor may hear a "swooshing" sound (bruit) over the carotid artery in your neck, a sound that's characteristic of a narrowed artery. Your doctor may perform a neurological evaluation to test your physical and mental status such as strength, memory and speech capabilities.
  • Ultrasound. A common, noninvasive test used to check for carotid artery disease is a Doppler ultrasound. This variation of the conventional ultrasound assesses blood flow and pressure — and possible narrowing of the blood vessel — by bouncing high-frequency sound waves (ultrasound) off red blood cells.
  • Computerized tomography angiography (CTA). This imaging test uses a contrast dye to highlight your carotid arteries in the pictures taken. The dye is injected into a blood vessel. When it travels to your carotid arteries, a computerized tomography (CT) scan gathers X-ray images of your neck and brain from many angles.
  • Head computerized tomography (CT). This imaging looks at the brain tissue, without giving dye, to rule out bleeding or other abnormalities.
  • Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA). Like CTA, this imaging test uses a contrast (noniodine) dye to highlight the arteries in your neck and brain. A magnetic field and radio waves are used to create cross-sectional, 3-D images.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Like CT, this imaging test looks at the brain tissue for evidence of early stroke or other abnormalities.
  • Cerebral angiogram. A more traditional, and more invasive, imaging procedure called a cerebral angiogram may sometimes be done, but its use is less common as it carries a slight risk of stroke. In this procedure, contrast dye is injected with a catheter that's been threaded directly into your carotid arteries. Detailed X-ray images are then taken.
Oct. 01, 2011