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.

Symptoms

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

Learn more about stroke here.

Diagnosis

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. 

Treatment

  • 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.

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