Concerned about your heart health, or been referred for a heart health test (carotid ultrasound)? Here’s what you need to know…
A heart heath test, also known as a carotid ultrasound, is a non-invasive, painless procedure that employs sound waves to gain an understanding of how blood flows through your carotid arteries. Located either side of your neck, carotid arteries are responsible for maintaining blood flow to your brain. They are major arteries, and ensuring they remain in good working order is an important aspect of maintaining your health. Plaque, comprised of calcium, fats, cholesterol and associated substances, can steadily build up over time in certain parts of the artery. These deposits, if they become large enough, can greatly restrict blood flow and contribute to the risk of stroke.
Why is a heart health test performed?
A carotid ultrasound is usually performed in order to check for potential blockages in your carotid arteries. The ultrasound will show whether your arteries narrow at certain points, which may indicate a higher risk of stroke.
If you have previously had a stroke, or have exhibited signs of transient ischemic attacks (TIA), your doctor may refer you for a heart health test. Additionally, if you have one or more of the common medical conditions that increase stroke risk, your doctor may consider a carotid ultrasound.
Most GPs will need to refer you to a Specialist for this test however, Carotid Ultrasound test is now available at SmartClinics Merrimac, Gold Coast with no referral required.
Some of the factors that increase the risk of stroke include:
- Coronary artery disease
- Family history of stroke
- Family history of heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Abnormal detection of sound using a stethoscope
- High cholesterol
What is carotid artery disease?
Carotid artery disease is caused by fatty deposits, such as plaque, inside your arteries restricting blood flow and causing blockages. Clogged arteries can increase the risk of stroke. Carotid artery disease develops over a long period of time, with many people experiencing a stroke as their first symptom of the disease. Another common symptom is a temporary reduction in blood flow through to the brain, also known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA).
What other tests may you need?
Outside of a standard heart health test, your doctor may recommend other tests to assess arteries and blood vessels elsewhere in your body. These tests may include:
- Cardiac stress test (add link to other article): this is an exercise stress test which may involve you running on a treadmill to assess how your heart responds to exercise.
- Ankle-brachial index test: This test compares blood pressure differences between your arm and your ankle, with the aim of determining if there is reduced blood flow in your legs.
- Abdominal ultrasound: Similar to the above tests, the abdominal ultrasound is used to determine whether you have limited blood flow in your abdominal area.
How a carotid ultrasound works
A carotid ultrasound works via a small device that emits ultrasound waves. When these waves encounter items in their way, such as blood vessels, they’ll bounce back, much like sonar. The technician conducting the test will gradually shift the device around the area they’re testing to build a picture of your arteries and any potential blockages.
What happens during a heart health test?
During your carotid ultrasound, you’ll have a sonographer who will be conducting the test. They’ll use a small device known as a transducer that they press against your skin. Like other ultrasounds, they’ll coat the area in gel to assist in the transmission of ultrasound waves. The pressure against your neck won’t be considerable. The process is usually quite painless and should take around 30 minutes.
How do you interpret results from a carotid ultrasound?
You won’t be required to interpret the results from your own test. At SmartClinics Merrimac, your GP will discuss your results immediately after your scan.
How to avoid a carotid ultrasound
People acquire blockages in their arteries for a range of reasons. However, if you’re keen to avoid ever needing a carotid ultrasound, there are a few lifestyle tips that will help you stay in good shape and prevent plaque build-up inside your arteries:
- Quit smoking
- Exercise once per day
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet
- Limit your intake of saturated fats
Are there any risks to a carotid ultrasound?
Carotid ultrasounds are quite safe. There are no identified risks. If you have any concerns, ensure you check with your doctor.
Book an appointment for a Heart Health Test
If you believe you need to undergo heart health test, you’ll need a referral from your GP.