Your carotid arteries extend from your aorta to your brain and supply your brain with blood. If the internal carotid artery is blocked (by plaque buildup as a result of atherosclerosis), the blood supply to your brain is reduced and can cause a stroke. In fact, carotid blockages are responsible for more than half of all strokes.
Most patients do not know they have carotid artery disease because it is often asymptomatic, but even without symptoms, a stroke can occur. If symptoms or warning signs of a stroke are present, they are called transient ischemic attacks, and they include:
- Weakness, numbness, or a tingling sensation on one side of the body
- Loss of control or the movement of an arm or a leg
- Vision loss in one eye (many people describe this sensation as a window shade coming down)
- Losing the ability to speak clearly
Carotid ultrasound is the first diagnostic tool used when carotid artery disease is suspected. Followed, if necessary, by a magnetic resonance angiography, which can visualize blockages in the carotid arteries. Then, if necessary X-ray studies using special dyes, called carotid angiograms, can show the degree of blockage of the carotid arteries.
- For less severe stenosis, treatment includes lifestyle modification, such as smoking cessation and medication, including aspirin and anti-cholesterol medications.
- Carotid artery surgery (also known as carotid artery endarterectomy), is a surgical procedure to manually remove fat and cholesterol build-up from inside the carotid artery and restore adequate blood flow to the brain to help prevent a stroke.
- Angioplasty with stenting is a less invasive procedure in which a catheter is inserted through a tiny incision in the skin (usually in the groin) and threaded under X-ray guidance to the carotid artery. A balloon is inflated to compress the plaque against the wall of the blood vessel and open up the artery. Next a carotid stent is deployed through the catheter and placed in the artery to keep it open, allowing the blood to flow.