Carotid Artery Disease

Overview

What Is Carotid Artery Disease?

Your carotid artery runs along both sides of your neck and carries blood to your brain. It’s the artery you feel when you use your fingers to check your pulse in your neck.

Atherosclerosis is a condition in which plaque, a waxy material, builds up in your arteries. When atherosclerosis occurs in your carotid arteries, it causes carotid artery disease.

Plaque can narrow (a condition called carotid stenosis) or block these important arteries, making it difficult for your brain to get enough blood. As a result, you could develop a stroke or other medical problems.

World-Class Care

Aurora’s Specialized Carotid Artery Disease Care

Carotid artery disease treatment at Aurora includes:

  • Innovative testing/treatment rooms: Our vascular treatment center at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center features hybrid labs/operating rooms (ORs). If you are diagnosed during a lab test with a medical condition that can be treated immediately, you may be able to stay in the same room and undergo the necessary procedure right away. That means you get life-saving treatment the moment your doctor sees you need it.
  • Fellowship-trained specialists: Many of our vascular (circulatory system) experts have undergone additional training after their required medical residencies. This training puts them in an elite class of highly skilled doctors.

Symptoms

Carotid Artery Disease Symptoms

The first symptom of carotid artery disease is usually a stroke or a mini-stroke called a transient ischemic attack (TIA).

A stroke occurs when a blood clot blocks blood flowing to your brain. A TIA is similar, but the clot blocks blood flow only for a short time and may not 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
  • Suddenly having trouble seeing out of one or both eyes
  • Sudden weakness or numbness in your face or limbs, often on one side of your body

Get Immediate Help

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 brain damage.

Causes & Risk Factors

Carotid Artery Disease Risk Factors & Causes

You’re more likely to develop carotid artery disease if:

  • You are overweight.
  • You are a smoker.
  • You have high blood pressure or cholesterol.
  • The disease runs in your family.

The condition also is more common in men over age 45 and women over age 55.

Diagnosis & Treatment

Thorough Evaluation & Treatment for Carotid Artery Disease

Your doctor may examine you for possible carotid artery disease during a routine office visit. He or she will use a stethoscope to listen to blood flow through your carotid arteries.

A “bruit,” or whooshing sound, could indicate a narrowed artery. However, you could have carotid artery disease even if your doctor doesn’t detect a bruit.

Diagnostic Tests

To further test for carotid artery disease, we may recommend any of the following tests:

  • Ultrasound testing: Ultrasounds use sound waves to create images of your carotid artery and help your doctor detect blockages.
  • Radiographic testing:
    • Computerized tomography (CT) scan
    • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

Find out more about heart and vascular testing and diagnosis at Aurora.

Treatment Options

If you are in the early stages of carotid artery disease, you may be able to control it with:

  • Health and lifestyle changes: Losing weight, quitting smoking, eating a healthier diet and getting more exercise can help reduce the chances of plaque build up in your carotid artery.
  • Medication: Blood thinners or prescription drugs can help lower your blood pressure or improve your cholesterol.

If your symptoms are more serious, your doctor may recommend:

  • Angioplasty and stenting: To improve blood flow through your arteries, your doctor may open them with small balloons (angioplasty). To keep your arteries open, your doctor may insert small mesh, metal tubes called stents.
  • Carotid endarterectomy: Your doctor can use this surgical procedure to improve blood flow by removing excess plaque from your arteries.

Learn more about carotid artery disease treatments.

Find a Specialist

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

Get a Second  Opinion

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

Make a Heartfelt Gift

You can impact lives and help transform cardiovascular care.

Your Life Your Health

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