Carotid Artery Disease

Carotid Artery Disease

What is it?

The carotid arteries are located on each side of the neck and extend from the aorta in the chest to the base of your skull. These arteries supply blood to the brain. Like the heart, the brain's cells need a constant supply of oxygen-rich blood. This blood supply is delivered to the brain by the two large carotid arteries and by two smaller vertebral arteries at the back of your neck. Carotid artery disease is when plaque builds up and reduces blood flow in the carotid arteries.

Causes, Symptoms and Risk Factors

Carotid artery disease occurs when the carotid arteries harden from the build up of plaque. Most people with coronary artery disease also have carotid artery disease therefore the risk factors are similar which include high blood pressure, high levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood, smoking, a high-fat diet and an inactive lifestyle.

There are no specific symptoms for carotid artery disease, the warning sings of a stroke, or having transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), “mini-strokes”, are a common warning sign. Symptoms include temporary episodes of:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion
  • Paralysis

Symptoms may last only a few minutes or a couple of hours.  Other signs or symptoms of a carotid artery blockage may be:

  • Weakness or paralysis of your arm, leg, or face on one side of your body
  • Numbness or tingling of your arm, leg, or face on one side of your body
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Loss of eyesight or blurry eyesight in one eye
  • Dizziness, confusion, fainting, or coma
  • Sudden, severe headache with no known cause

Carotid artery disease increases the risk of stroke in several ways:

  • Plaque severely narrows the carotid arteries  
  • A blood clot becomes wedged in a carotid artery narrowed by plaque 
  • Plaque breaking off from the carotid arteries and blocking a smaller artery in the brain (cerebral artery)
  • Plaque or a blood clot breaks away from the site where it formed and blocks another artery downstream (arterial embolism)

Our Services (Tests, Procedures and Treatments)

Diagnostic testing and procedures are the first step in establishing a treatment strategy. A doctor may order tests or perform the following procedures:

Medicine may be prescribed, or procedures may be performed to open the arteries and keep the blood flowing, which include:

  • Anticoagulants (blood thinning medicine)
  • Carotid endarterectomy
  • Carotid angioplasty and stenting

These procedures and medicines will not prevent the hardening of the arteries from occurring again. Treatment of carotid artery disease starts with managing risk factors such as reducing cholesterol, controlling blood pressure, managing diabetes when present, achieving ideal weight, getting more exercise and quitting smoking.

St. Luke's Heart & Vascular