Carotid Artery Disease


Carotid artery disease happens when fatty deposits – called plaque – clog your carotid arteries. These are the two main blood vessels on either side of your neck that carry oxygen-rich blood to your brain. Plaque makes these arteries harden and narrow, which restricts blood flow to your brain and increases your risk of having a stroke.

You’re more likely to develop carotid artery disease if you’re overweight, smoke, have high blood pressure or cholesterol or if the disease runs in your family. It’s also more common in men over 45 and women over 55.


The first symptom of carotid artery disease is usually a stroke or a mini-stroke called a transient ischemic attack (TIA). A stroke happens when a blood clot breaks away from plaque and blocks blood flowing to your brain. A TIA is similar, but the clot only blocks blood flow for a short time, so it usually doesn’t cause permanent damage.

TIA symptoms include:

  • A sudden, severe headache 
  • Being unable to move one or more of your limbs
  • Dizziness or loss of balance
  • Feeling confused
  • Having trouble speaking or understanding what people are saying
  • Sudden trouble seeing out of one or both eyes
  • Sudden weakness or numbness in your face or limbs, often on one side of your body
Strokes can cause the same symptoms, as well as drooping in your face.

If you or someone you love has any of these symptoms, call 911. Treating a TIA can help prevent a stroke. And treating a stroke quickly can reduce your risk of long-term damage.


If you’re worried about carotid artery disease, talk with your Aurora doctor. He or she will give you a physical exam, listen to your carotid arteries with a stethoscope and may do diagnostic tests, including a carotid angiography or a carotid ultrasound.

Services & Treatment

If you’re diagnosed with carotid artery disease, your doctor will work with you on a treatment plan to minimize your risks and protect your health. It may include medications and lifestyle changes such as: 

  • Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains
  • Getting more exercise 
  • Getting your diabetes under control (if you are diabetic)
  • Losing weight (if your waist is wider than 35 inches if you’re a woman or 40 inches if you’re a man, you have a higher risk)
  • Lowering your blood pressure
  • Lowering your cholesterol
  • Quitting smoking
  • Treating metabolic syndrome (learn about metabolic syndrome symptoms)

If you have severe carotid artery disease, your doctor may recommend:

Why Aurora?

You're at the Heart of Our Care 

Aurora Health Care offers coordinated care for preventing, diagnosing and treating heart and vascular disease. World-renowned heart and vascular specialists diagnose and treat all types of cardiovascular conditions and disorders, using the most advanced state-of-the-art tools and technologies available today. 

We have 15 hospitals and 155 clinics throughout eastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois so you can find a location that's closest to you. 

What’s all this mean to you? Convenient, coordinated and expert care.  

Find an   Aurora Cardiologist

Use our search tool to find the right doctor who's just right for you. 

Get a Second  Opinion

Knowing all your options can make life's toughest decisions a little easier.

Your Life Your Health

myAurora makes it easy to manage your care online, anytime.