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Carotid artery disease occurs when blocked carotid arteries cannot efficiently transport blood. Carotid arteries transport blood from your heart to your brain and head, and can suffer from plaque buildup over time, causing carotid artery disease. This may result in a mini-stroke, stroke, and even death.

Introduction
 
Carotid artery disease occurs when blocked carotid arteries cannot efficiently transport blood. Carotid arteries transport blood from your heart to your brain and head, and can suffer from plaque buildup over time, causing carotid artery disease. This may result in a mini-stroke, stroke, and even death. Carotid artery disease can be treated with medications, lifestyle changes, surgery, and interventional procedures.
 
Anatomy
 
Several big arteries branch out from your heart and turn into smaller veins as they flow throughout the body. Arteries and veins are different types of blood vessels; the former carries oxygenated blood outward from the heart while the latter carries deoxygenated blood back into your heart.
 
Of the blood vessels in your body, the aorta is the largest. It carries blood pumped from the heart and progressively branches to deliver blood to all your organs and rest of the body. Carotid arteries branch off from the aorta to carry blood to your brain and head. The aorta supplies your heart with necessary nutrients, blood, and oxygen to maintain the heart’s health.
 
Causes
 
Carotid artery disease is caused by narrow or blocked carotid arteries, which obstruct proper blood flow to the brain and head. Calcium, plaque, and fibrous tissue buildup are the most common causes of blockage and narrowing. In a process known as atherosclerosis, the arteries harden and fail to efficiently transport blood.
 
Obstructed blood flow to the brain due to narrowed arteries can result in a stroke. A stroke can also occur from plaque build-up; a piece of plaque can break off, move to the brain, and block one of the brain’s smaller arteries. A blood clot, which blocks or reduces blood flow to the brain, can also cause a stroke.
 
Symptoms
 
There may be no symptoms of carotid artery disease in its early stages. Warning signs of a stroke are a potential indication of blocked carotid arteries. You may suffer a mini-stroke, formally known as a transient ischemic attack, the symptoms of which can last anywhere from a few minutes to an hour.
 
Contact your doctor immediately if you believe that you are experiencing a mini-stroke, as it is a warning sign that you are at risk of a stroke. If you experience symptoms for more than 24 hours, it is possible that you had a stroke.
 
Diagnosis
 
Your doctor can diagnose carotid artery disease after going over your medical history and performing a physical exam and several cardiovascular tests. After taking your blood pressure, your doctor will listen to the sound of your blood flowing through the carotid arteries.
 
In most cases, a carotid duplex ultrasound can detect carotid artery disease. In this simple test, your doctor will pass a small device, which transmits sound waves, above your carotid arteries. This provides an image of your carotid arteries; if this provides insufficient information, your doctor will perform further tests.
 
Magnetic resonance angiography provides very detailed images of the blood vessels. Computed tomography create cross-sectional images of your brain and arteries. These tests help to identify areas of arterial narrowing and poor blood flow.
 
Treatment
 
Treatment will vary, depending on the severity of your symptoms and condition. Carotid artery disease may be treated with interventional procedures, medications, surgery, and lifestyle changes, which include maintaining a healthy weight, cholesterol level, blood pressure, and blood sugar level. Regular exercise and a healthy diet low in salt, cholesterol, trans fats, and saturated fats are both helpful. Quitting smoking is paramount.
 
To prevent blood clots and stroke, your doctor may prescribe some medications. An interventional technique, carotid angioplasty involves placing a catheter inside the artery in order to hold open a narrowed area. Alternatively, your doctor may insert a stent.
 
Carotid artery disease may be treated with surgery. A surgical technique that removes plaque from an artery, a carotid endarterectomy may have long-term results.
 
Prevention
 
Reducing risk factors can help prevent carotid artery disease. Controllable risk factors include blood pressure, diabetes, weight, smoking, cholesterol, and activity level. Regular exercise and a well-balanced diet are also helpful. Receive regular physical examinations from your doctor.
 
Am I At Risk
 
Risk factors that increase your chances of developing carotid artery disease include family history, obesity, advancing age, smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, physical inactivity, and, in rare cases, fibromuscular dysplasia and carotid aneurysm disease. 
 
Complications
 
Carotid artery disease can cause a mini-stroke, stroke, and possibly death. Contact your doctor immediately if you suspect that you are experiencing a mini-stroke. Call an ambulance immediately if you believe you are having a stroke.