Heart Health

Do you need to check for narrowed arteries in your neck?

Carotid artery ultrasounds are advisable only in a few specific circumstances.

By , Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

photo of a man lying on a bed while having an ultrasound scan of his neck

Have you ever gotten a flyer in the mail advertising a "simple, painless ultrasound screening" that can identify dangerous plaque buildup? When offered by commercial companies, these tests are typically done in churches, recreation centers, or mobile vans. But they're also done at accredited medical facilities. One of the tests in the screening looks at the carotid arteries, which run up either side of your neck and supply blood to your brain.

Like arteries in the heart and elsewhere in the body, the carotid arteries can become clogged with fatty deposits (plaque) that narrow the path for blood flow. But contrary to what you might assume, checking for this problem — called carotid stenosis — rarely makes sense, especially with a screening test done by a for-profit company.

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About the Author

photo of Julie Corliss

Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

Julie Corliss is the executive editor of the Harvard Heart Letter. Before working at Harvard, she was a medical writer and editor at HealthNews, a consumer newsletter affiliated with The New England Journal of Medicine. She … See Full Bio
View all posts by Julie Corliss

About the Reviewer

photo of Christopher P. Cannon, MD

Christopher P. Cannon, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Heart Letter; Editorial Advisory Board Member, Harvard Health Publishing

Dr. Christopher P. Cannon is editor in chief of the Harvard Heart Letter. He is a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and senior physician in the Preventive Cardiology section of the Cardiovascular Division at … See Full Bio
View all posts by Christopher P. Cannon, MD

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No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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