Harvard Heart Letter

Ask the doctor: Carotid artery narrowing

Q. During a recent appointment, my cardiologist heard a sound in my neck and sent me for an ultrasound, which showed a narrowing in my carotid artery. The doctor said this means I'm at risk for a stroke. Because I'm already taking all the right medicines, his only recommendation was getting another ultrasound in a year. But if the narrowing gets worse and I have a stroke, won't that be too late?

A. The carotid arteries, found on either side of the neck, are the main supply route for blood to reach the brain. If cholesterol-laden plaque clogs one of these arteries, it sometimes produces a distinctive sound (called a bruit [BROO-ee]) that a doctor can detect with a stethoscope. That finding usually prompts an ultrasound.

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