Carotid Artery Disease

Carotid arteries deliver blood to the head and brain. Carotid artery disease, or carotid artery stenosis, is the narrowing of the carotid arteries in the neck. It happens when fatty substances called plaque clog the arteries. This blockage can increase your risk of stroke.

Overview

Symptoms

There may not be symptoms of carotid artery disease until your arteries are very blocked. Your first signs of carotid artery disease may be a mini-stroke (also called a transient ischemic attack or TIA) or a stroke. 

Signs of a TIA or stroke include:

  • Sudden trouble using and understanding language
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one eye
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Sudden, severe headache
  • Sudden weakness in your face or limbs, particularly in one side of your body

Call 9-1-1 or go to your local emergency room if you notice these signs in you or somebody you’re with. Timely care is critical for limiting long-term damage when it comes to stroke.


Diagnosis

You’re at higher risk for carotid artery disease if you smoke, have diabetes, or have high blood pressure.  

To diagnose carotid artery disease, your doctor will begin with a complete physical exam and discussing your medical history and symptoms. Screenings and tests may also be recommended, including an ultrasound – a painless imaging test that helps doctors determine your risk for stroke based on how much blockage is present. 

A CT scan or MRI may also reveal signs of a blockage or a stroke.

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Treatment Options

If your arteries are only blocked slightly, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes and medication.

Other treatment options for carotid artery disease include:

  • Carotid angioplasty and stenting, when a thin tube called a catheter is threaded into the artery, starting in the groin. A small mesh tube (a stent) is put inside the catheter and set into place in the neck, propping the artery open.
  • Carotid endarterectomy, which is the surgical removal of the blockage.

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