IGeL ultrasound of the carotid artery

A look into the cervical artery can indicate an increased risk of stroke. Is it worth paying for such an ultrasound?

What is being done there?

The doctor uses an ultrasound device to examine the arteries on both sides of the neck from the outside. In this way, he can see whether calcium deposits may have formed on the inner walls of the arteries, which narrow the blood vessel and thus increase the risk of a stroke.

Per

  • The ultrasound check-up only takes a few minutes, is painless and without radiation exposure. "It helps calm the patient if the examination does not reveal any abnormalities," says Professor Heribert Schunkert, director of the German Heart Center in Munich.
  • As a rule, the procedure, also known as carotid duplex sonography in technical jargon, delivers reliable images. It enables the attending physician to make a good assessment of the neck arteries.
  • The condition of the carotid artery also allows conclusions to be drawn about the entire vascular system. Calcification of the carotid artery can indicate that other vessels, such as those in the heart, are also affected.

Contra

  • Many strokes have completely different causes, such as clots caused by atrial fibrillation that travel from the heart to the brain. There is no evidence of this in the carotid arteries.
  • A finding often leads to follow-up examinations with X-rays or contrast media, but also drug therapies that might not be necessary, explains Professor Stephan Baldus, Director of the Clinic for Cardiology at the University Clinic in Cologne. In the worst case, this could harm the patient.
  • So far it has not been clearly proven that the benefits of the examination for early detection outweigh the possible disadvantages.

costs

For self-payers, the ultrasound examination of the carotid artery costs around 50 to 90 euros per side. If there is no specific suspicion of deposits in the vessels (arteriosclerosis), the health insurance companies usually do not cover the costs.

Conclusion

"An ultrasound examination of the carotid artery is important for patients who already have indications of a general vascular disease," says cardiologist Baldus.

For healthy people, however, it is not recommended for the sole early detection of an increased risk of stroke, as the expert emphasizes. "The likelihood of preventing a stroke by doing this, if you have neither symptoms nor risk factors, is extremely small."