Carotid artery disease is a disease caused by narrowing or blockage of the carotid arteries. A carotid artery on each side of your neck brings blood to your head and brain. A narrowing or blockage (stenosis) can slow or stop blood flow in your carotid artery. Depending on the degree of narrowing, patients with carotid artery disease may remain without any symptoms (asymptomatic). If the plaque progresses, some patients may experience temporary symptoms lasting a few minutes to hours (transient ischemic attacks TIA), or a more permanent damage like in a stroke.
At South Charlotte General and Vascular Surgery, our carotid artery disease specialists are specially trained to care for patients with carotid artery disease and are able to diagnose, monitor and treat the condition if such treatment is needed.
What is the cause of carotid artery stenosis?
Most often, the narrowing of the arteries is caused by fatty deposits called plaque that build up in blood vessels and make them narrower. The narrowing causes the surface of the plaque to become very irregular, which may allow small pieces of debris to break loose and travel up into your brain. If the plaque progresses over time, the artery may become completely blocked affecting a larger area of the brain and may cause significant, and permanent deficits.
Am I at risk for carotid artery disease?
Your risk of developing a carotid plaque is higher if you suffer from any of the following:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Have a family history of carotid artery disease
- Diabetes Mellitus
- Don’t get enough exercise
- Age over 55 and of African American descent
What are the symptoms of carotid artery disease?
Most people with carotid artery disease have no symptoms (asymptomatic). As the plaque progresses and the narrowing or stenosis becomes greater than 50%, patients may start experiencing the onset of symptoms (see: Stroke). In most patients, symptoms are localized to one side of the body and may affect the arm and leg on the same side. Remember that if the symptoms are on the right side of your body, the stroke is affecting the left side of the brain and vice-versa.
Because plaque buildup may affect all the arteries in your body, your doctor may also evaluate your heart or legs for any unknown, but significant blockages before any serious symptoms develop.
What are the treatment options?
The goal of treatment is to prevent more blockage of the arteries and minimize the injury to the brain from stroke.
Risk factor modification:
- Treating high blood pressure
- Treating high cholesterol
- Treating high blood sugars
- Immediate smoking cessation
- Losing weight if you are overweight
- Regular exercise
- Aspirin 81 mg/day. However, some strokes are caused by bleeding and aspirin may increase your risk of having this type of stroke. If you are having sudden symptoms of a stroke, do not take aspirin unless you consult with your healthcare provider.
If your carotid artery is severely blocked and is causing symptoms, you will likely need a procedure to open the blood vessel. (see: carotid artery surgery)
If you are at risk or have carotid artery disease and would like to schedule an appointment with our carotid artery disease specialists, please call us or request an appointment online.