Carotid Endarterectomy

Treating Cardiovascular Diseases in Wisconsin and Northern Illinois

A carotid endarterectomy (CEA) is a surgical procedure that removes plaque buildup from the carotid arteries. Your carotid arteries are located on each side of your neck and supply oxygenated blood to your brain.

When plaque builds up inside your carotid arteries, it causes them to harden and narrow. This limits blood flow to your brain, which increases your risk of a stroke or a transient ischemic attack (TIA), also known as a mini stroke.

A carotid endarterectomy procedure removes plaque buildup from inside a carotid artery, restoring normal blood flow to the brain and reducing your stroke risk.

Preparing for a Carotid Endarterectomy Procedure

Before your carotid endarterectomy surgery, your physician may request one or more of the following tests to determine the extent of your carotid artery disease:

  • Carotid angiography uses a catheter, which is usually inserted through your groin and guided to your carotid artery, contrast dye and X-rays to show where the carotid artery has narrowed.
  • Carotid ultrasound uses sound waves to create an image of the inside of your carotid arteries.
  • Cat Scan (CT or CTA) uses X-rays to take pictures of the carotid arteries from many angles and produces a multi-dimensional image. Contrast dye may be used to improve the images.
  • Doppler ultrasound shows the speed and direction of blood flow through the carotid arteries.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI or MRA) uses a large magnet and radio waves to create pictures of the carotid arteries. Contrast dye may be used to improve visibility.

Like most surgeries, this one has potential risks. Specific carotid endarterectomy risks include a possible reaction to anesthesia, bleeding, infection or nerve injury that could cause numbness to your face or tongue. Although rare, serious complications such as a stroke or death could occur.

Factors that increase carotid endarterectomy complications include:

  • Being female
  • Being older than 75
  • Having diabetes or another serious medical condition

Your surgeon will discuss any restrictions prior to your procedure regarding medications, food and drink.

What to Expect during the Carotid Endarterectomy Procedure

A carotid endarterectomy is performed in a hospital surgical room. The surgeon makes an incision in your neck and removes the plaque that has built up in the carotid artery. The procedure typically lasts 2 hours.

Most people have two options regarding anesthesia, which they should discuss with their surgeon. General anesthesia temporarily puts you to sleep, while local anesthesia only numbs only the surgical area, allowing the surgeon to talk to you during the procedure.

With either type of anesthesia, you will be fully monitored with a blood pressure cuff, heart monitor and pulse oximeter (to measure oxygen levels in your blood). You will also receive oxygen and peripheral IVs.

Along with your surgeon, your anesthesiologist, nurses, surgical technicians and anesthesia technicians will work as a team to care for you during the procedure.

Carotid Endarterectomy Recovery

After the surgery, you may have a sore neck for a few days and some difficulty swallowing. Soft foods are recommended. You can expect to recover in the hospital for a day or two after the procedure. Your physician will prescribe pain medication to help make your recovery more comfortable.

To reduce the risk of developing a blood clot, your doctor may prescribe aspirin and/or plavix. It is also important to stop smoking and control your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

It’s important to seek emergency care if you experience any of the following:

  • Severe headache
  • Signs or symptoms of a transient ischemic attack or stroke
  • Swelling in the neck

Your physician will advise you on when you may resume your normal activities, including driving.

Leaders in Treating Carotid Artery Disease

Aurora Health Care has multidisciplinary teams that include vascular specialists, surgeons, cardiologists, and radiologists who collaborate in the diagnosis and treatment of carotid artery disease.

Aurora doctors are conveniently located throughout eastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois. Find a doctor or heart specialist near you. To get a second opinion or if you need assistance finding a provider, please call 888-649-6892.