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Carotid Artery Screening: Purpose, Preparation, and Procedure

Intravascular ultrasound, more commonly known as duplex scanning, uses sound waves to produce an image of the carotid arteries. This can provide important information about the health of your carotid arteries and indicate if you might be at risk for stroke or heart attack. It also helps your physician determine if you’re a candidate for carotid artery surgery to remove plaque or blockages from your artery walls and prevent blood clots from forming and blocking blood flow through the artery.

Carotid Artery Screening: Purpose, Preparation, and Procedure

What is carotid artery screening?

A carotid duplex ultrasound is a noninvasive test that checks for blockages in the carotid arteries. These arteries are located on each side of your neck and supply blood to your brain. A blockage in one of these arteries can cause a stroke. When should you get screened? You should get screened for risk factors such as high cholesterol, smoking, or diabetes. 

Is carotid screening recommended for everyone?

A carotid duplex ultrasound is a noninvasive test to screen for carotid artery blockages. The test is recommended for people at risk for strokes, such as those with high blood pressure, diabetes, or a family history of stroke. The test is quick and easy, and it can help your doctor find problems early so that you can get treatment before a stroke happens. It’s safe and painless. For example, if you have an abnormal result on the test, your doctor may order more tests like MRI or CT scan to see what’s going on inside. 

Does Medicare cover it?

Medicare will cover a carotid duplex ultrasound if your doctor or other health care provider accepts Medicare assignment. This means they agree to accept the Medicare-approved amount as payment in full. If your provider doesn’t accept assignments, you may have to pay the entire bill yourself. In general, though, providers who do not accept assignments are located in areas with little competition among doctors and hospitals. If you’re looking for a good deal on the procedure, ask your physician about the possibility of accepting the assignment; it could save you money. 

How do I prepare for the procedure?

There is no special preparation required for a carotid artery duplex ultrasound. You should wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing as you will need to remove all clothing and jewelry from your waist up. You may be asked to wear a gown during the procedure. A nurse or technician will position you on the table with pillows under your neck, shoulders, and back so that it is slightly elevated. A nurse or technician will place a pillow in front of your chest and stomach area to rest below your breastbone (sternum). 

What should I expect on the day of my carotid screening test?

Your loved ones are welcome to stay with you during your procedure. Carotid artery screening is a non-invasive test that uses ultrasound waves to produce images of the inside of your carotid arteries. The test is used to check for blockages that could cause a stroke. The preparation for this test is simple: just arrive at your appointment with clean skin on your neck. During the procedure, a gel will be applied to your neck, and a transducer will be used to scan the area. You’ll need to hold still while being scanned so the technician can take pictures of your neck. There should not be any discomfort or pain associated with this process as well as there may not be any bleeding or bruising following the procedure.