How Serious is a Carotid Bruit?

Blog Post
By South Valley Vascular
December 6, 2022

Carotid artery stenosis is a vascular disease that can be caused by a number of factors, and can be serious if left untreated. A carotid bruit is a distinctive sound heard with a stethoscope that can help identify carotid artery stenosis. Early detection of this disease is key to minimizing severe health implications later. To better understand carotid artery disease, it’s helpful to understand how the cardiovascular system works. 

The body’s cardiovascular system is an intricate network of vessels that carry blood through the body. It is responsible for providing blood to all the body’s tissues so they can function optimally. It also serves to rid the body of waste products. At the center of the cardiovascular system is the heart. It is a powerhouse organ that pumps blood to the lungs to get oxygen. It then sends the oxygen-rich blood to the rest of your body through the larger vessels called the arteries. The veins, which are smaller blood vessels, function by carrying deoxygenated blood back to the heart to repeat the circulatory process. The carotid artery, located on both sides of the neck, is an especially important vessel because it carries oxygenated blood to the brain. 

Carotid artery stenosis is a condition that happens when the carotid artery becomes blocked. A plaque buildup, is one of the several causes of carotid artery blockage; a substance made up of fat and cholesterol. The plaque in the arteries is called atherosclerosis. When the plaque blocks the normal flow of blood through your carotid artery, you’re at increased risk of a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or stroke.

What Is A Bruit?

If you have been experiencing vascular issues like the carotid artery disease and have been researching your symptoms, you've probably come across many medical terminologies. A carotid bruit has likely made a list. But what is a bruit, exactly? 

A carotid bruit is an abnormal vascular sound usually heard with a stethoscope over the carotid artery. A bruit describes the sound of blood flowing through a narrowed portion of an artery. 

It makes a “swooshing” sound, and it can be indicative of a clogged artery. 

A bruit is an important diagnostic tool to identify carotid artery stenosis. It’s part of a physical examination that can help determine the next steps in confirming the presence of the disease. If a bruit exists, your doctor will order subsequent tests like an ultrasound to help gain more focused insight into the condition of your vessels. Commonly ordered tests include:

  1. Duplex Ultrasound will provide information about the structure of the blood vessels and assess blood flow and pressure in the carotid arteries. It is considered a noninvasive procedure and lasts 30-60 minutes. After the test, you can typically return to your regular activities immediately.
  2. CT angiography (CTA) or MR angiography (MRA)  will use intravenous contrast dye and X-rays to provide multiple three-dimensional views of arteries in the body. It is considered a minimally invasive procedure and takes around 20-60 minutes for a CT study and 40-90 minutes for an MR. 

Both tests are highly effective at determining plaque buildup in the arteries. The results will dictate if lifestyle changes and medication are an excellent source of treatment. Surgeons recommend surgery if the buildup is significant or you’ve experienced any TIA symptoms. The most common surgical procedures to treat carotid artery disease include carotid endarterectomy or stenting with a carotid angioplasty. 

Carotid Bruits And Carotid Artery Disease 

Carotid bruits are indicative of narrowed arteries caused by the buildup of plaque. Upon physical examination, it is critical to undergo further testing if a bruit is found. This is because carotid atherosclerotic plaque is linked to a large portion of ischemic strokes. Strokes can often lead to a significant loss of mobility, speech, and even mortality. 

The experts at South Valley Vascular specialize in diagnosing, treating, and managing diseases and conditions of the blood vessels. We understand your concerns and want to help! For more information on screening for ischemic strokes or to schedule a consultation, call us at (559) 625-4118.