Atherosclerosis is a diffuse, body-wide process. It is not known why plaque accumulates earlier in one artery versus another. It is known, however, that when plaque is found in one artery system, such as in the heart’s coronary arteries, there is an increased likelihood of finding significant plaque in other important arteries. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, advancing age and smoking increase the odds of developing peripheral artery disease (PAD).
The carotid arteries are the main arteries in the neck that supply blood to the brain. Disease in the carotid arteries is a major cause of stroke. Progressive plaque accumulation in these arteries is typically silent before stroke but can easily be detected during an ultrasound examination. If severe obstruction of a carotid artery is found, procedures to relieve the obstruction have been shown to reduce the odds of future stroke.
The abdominal aorta is also a typical location for arterial disease to develop. Disease of this major artery segment may cause its walls to weaken and stretch, resulting in a dilated, ballooning segment called an aneurysm. With further aneurysm expansion under pressure, tearing or rupture can occur, which carries a high fatality rate. Like disease in the carotid arteries, aortic aneurysm development and progression is typical silent. Aortic aneurysm is usually easily detected using ultrasound.
The deep veins of the legs are the most common locations for large blood clots to develop, a condition known as deep vein thrombosis, or DVT. DVT may cause pain and swelling in a leg and may result in a pulmonary embolus, a condition where a portion of the DVT breaks free and travels in the blood stream to lodge in the lungs. Ultrasound imaging can also detect DVT with high accuracy and speed and lead to immediate treatment with blood thinners.