What is the carotid artery?
The carotid arteries stem from the heart and travel up to the head, neck, and face. To supply these areas with enough blood for optimum brain function, and to provide the proper vascularization in your neck and face to maintain healthy skin, the carotid arteries must be in good health. You’ll need both the left and right carotid arteries and their branches (composed of an external and internal branch) to remain free of blockages and sustain their high elasticity. These arteries are vital for oxygen delivery to the brain, helping it maintain proper function.
Inside the carotid artery, just before it bifurcates into the internal and external branches, there is what we call the carotid sinus. Within the carotid sinus, there is a sensitive area of tissue that acts as a sensor, performing internal regulatory functions and communication. Damage to this area, due to a hematoma or anything that can block the pressure sensing, is troublesome for your system. Additionally, since the carotid arteries supply the brain with blood, any blockage here can cause a sudden stroke. Cell death in the brain is not something that can be reversed, so healthy carotid arteries are essential.
Carotid Ultrasound Visualizes Arterial Health
Dr. Ginkel offers the carotid ultrasound procedure in-house at Midcoast Cardiovascular Associates, so that he can evaluate the carotid arteries as soon as you’re under his care. Like many of our exams, the carotid ultrasound is a non-invasive and extremely effective way to check for the following carotid conditions:
- Atherosclerosis, or hardening of the carotid artery
- Aneurysm, presenting a bulging of the carotid with the potential to rupture
- Stenosis, a narrowing of the artery that may lead to a possible stroke
During your initial exam, Dr. Ginkel will begin by listening closely to the carotid artery through a stethoscope. While he listens, he’s waiting to hear a specific sound (called a bruit) that tells him there’s abnormal flow. Following the stethoscope exam, Dr. Ginkel may order a carotid ultrasound exam. A sonographer will conduct the carotid ultrasound, using both 2-D and Doppler methods to offer a static view of the vessel as well as a color view of the blood flow through the artery. This carotid artery exam shows specific points of blockage and slowed circulation through that artery, which can pose a serious problem for the brain. Dr. Ginkel can also evaluate the status of previous carotid procedures.
After the carotid ultrasound exam, Dr. Ginkel will explain his findings and what you can do to eliminate the blockage and prevent carotid artery disease altogether. Carotid surgery, or stenting, offers the highest level of repair, but anticoagulant medications such as Aspirin and Plavix, as well as medications that modify your atherosclerotic risk, such as those that treat hypertension and high cholesterol, may be prescribed.
You’re at a higher risk for developing carotid artery disease if you’re overweight, if you smoke, if you have unregulated blood sugar or diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, or a prior family history of vascular disease. If you notice any of the following symptoms of Carotid Artery Disease, it is important that you get evaluated as soon as possible:
- Sudden loss of vision
- Dizziness or lack of balance
- Stroke or TIA
- Loss of feeling in the face, head, and neck
- Onset of intense headache
- Sudden inability to speak
The health of your carotid arteries is extremely important, so early detection of any problems can save your life. Schedule your appointment with Dr. Ginkel at 805-354-0112 to get more information about carotid ultrasounds.